Speakers at AJCS seminar: The Turkish elections solidified civilian rule and enhanced international standing

14 June 2023
From left to right: Ahmed Abdel Aziz, Ahmet Uysal, Taha Eğri, Özden Zeynep Oktav and Nezar Krikish. [Al Jazeera]

A seminar organised by Al Jazeera Centre for Studies on the gains Turkey has achieved from the recent parliamentary and presidential elections, and Turkey’s policies for the next five years, concluded that the most important achievements are the consolidation of the democratic path, the affirmation of civilian rule, and the distancing of military dominance from Turkish political decisions. Participants in the seminar predicted the success of the financial and economic policies to be pursued by the new government in curbing inflation and reducing the exchange rate of the lira. They also anticipated further enhancement of Turkish-Arab relations, with an emphasis on pragmatism and rational thinking in that relationship, within the context of Turkey's inclination towards greater openness to the world. They promoted the importance of a "strong Turkey" in restoring stability to the Middle East region.

The seminar was organised by Al Jazeera Centre for Studies in collaboration with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (ORSAM) and Al Jazeera Mubasher. It took place at Istanbul University’s Congress and Culture Centre under the title, "The Turkish Elections: Gains and Challenges", on Thursday, 8 June 2023. The participants were Ahmet Uysal, Professor of Political Sociology at Istanbul University and Director of Middle Eastern Studies Center (ORSAM); Özden Zeynep Oktav, Professor of Political Science at Istanbul Medeniyet University; Taha Eğri, Professor of Economics at Kırklareli University; and Nezar Krikish, a researcher specialising in Arab and Turkish affairs. The seminar was moderated by Al Jazeera Mubasher presenter Ahmed Abdel Aziz.

At the beginning of the seminar, Dr. Ayşegül Komsuoğlu Çitipitioğlu, the Dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences at Istanbul University, welcomed the attendees and emphasised the importance of the timing of the seminar, following the announcement of the results of the parliamentary and presidential elections. She also highlighted Turkey's orientation towards further strengthening its ties with the Arab world.

The participants in the seminar presented their analyses of the results of the recent Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections. They discussed the factors that led to the victory of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s alliance and the reasons for the failure of the opposing Nation's Alliance. They also shed light on the reasons for the high voter turnout in Turkey and the significance of the high voter turnout rates. Additionally, they discussed global interest in the elections and the keen attention of major capitals to their results.

The seminar dedicated a space for the discussion of the implications of the victory of the AKP and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for various domestic and foreign issues, as well as approaches to addressing the challenges that Turkey will face in the next five years. This includes the aftermath of the earthquake and the reconstruction of the devastated areas, and the issue of Syrian refugees and the demands from some opposition sectors to have them repatriated. Furthermore, the seminar addressed the issue of inflation and the depreciation of the lira against the dollar.

Foreign affairs also received their fair share of discussion among the participants in the seminar, particularly the future of relations with Russia in light of the challenge of maintaining a balance between Turkish interests and the tense relationship between Russia and the West. The seminar also addressed Turkish policies towards some Middle Eastern countries, such as the Gulf states, Egypt and Libya.

The speakers concluded their discussions by sharing their vision for the post-Erdoğan era and the potential alternatives, whether from the ruling Justice and Development Party or from the opposition, to lead that stage.

Consolidating the democratic path and reinforcing civilian rule

Ahmet Uysal emphasised the importance of the Turkish elections and attributed it to Turkey's significance and position in its geographic and geopolitical environment as a link between Asia and Europe. He attributed the high voter turnout among Turkish citizens to the sense of importance they attach to their vote in influencing the outcome between competitors. He explained that the voting process was a choice between Turkey continuing in the same direction as a strong, democratic and independent country, or regressing to a country living under military and international guardianship. Uysal affirmed that Erdoğan's greatest achievements were the consolidation of civilian rule, the elimination of military influence in governance, and bridging the gap between the ruling authority and the governed through genuine democratic governance.

Uysal clarified that the integration of Arab residents in Turkey would be faster with the acceleration of economic growth rates. He stressed the importance of the role played by Arabs in the Turkish economy, whether as major investors or owners of medium and small projects, describing them as an "accelerator for economic growth."

Regarding the future relations between Turkey and Syria under President Bashar al-Assad's regime, Uysal indicated that Turkish interests require further consultation with other countries on this matter. He stated that it is better for Turkey to seek opportunities in everything happening around it, as it did during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war, as well as in the context of the tensions between China and the United States. "Amidst all these contradictions, Turkey can find areas of benefit," he said.

Similarly, Uysal pointed out that Turkey is concerned with what is happening in Sudan and is interested in the restoration of stability to the country. Additionally, he argued that Turkey does not want a conflict in the region over the possession of nuclear weapons. In this regard, when asked by one of the attendees, he said that Turkey opposes Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons just as much as it opposes that of Israel.

Enhanced foreign relations

In her remarks, Özden Zeynep Oktav maintained that Turkey's foreign relations after the elections will continue as they are, but "with more dynamism", especially with the United States and the European Union. She explained that the current elections were a "self-assertion" for Erdoğan in front of the West and the United States. She expressed disapproval of some Western media outlets' negative portrayal of Erdoğan's character, and clarified that the West "hastened to congratulate Erdoğan's victory after its failure in relying on the opposition."

Oktav also mentioned the confidence of certain segments of the Turkish people in Erdoğan and cited the voting percentages in his favour in the earthquake-stricken areas. She attributed this to the voters' trust that he is capable of rebuilding those regions and repairing the damage they have suffered.

Moreover, Oktav affirmed that Erdoğan's policies of balanced openness to the world and moving away from alliances and polarisations will continue.

She expressed her appreciation for Erdoğan's stance towards non-Turks who choose to live in Turkey, and affirmed that that is what made them take to the streets in joy upon Erdoğan's victory in the elections.

Promising economic growth

For his part, Taha Eğri focused on the economic issue and its impact on the Turkish elections. He discussed his expectations for the Turkish economy in the next five years, explaining that the current economic crisis in the country is partly due to the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian war. He revealed that Turkey had just started adapting to the consequences of these two factors when the devastating earthquake struck, affecting the southeast region of Turkey and requiring a budget allocation to meet the needs of the affected people and rebuild the affected areas. He also revealed that that region was known for various industries, including the textile industry, which were severely affected by the events, thus impacting the overall Turkish economy.

Eğri noted that voters were not convinced of the ability of the Turkish opposition to solve the economic crisis they are experiencing and instead chose to place their trust in Erdoğan, leading a significant number of them to allocate their votes to him.

He alluded to the optimism of the general public regarding the appointment of the Minister of Finance and Treasury, Mehmet Şimşek, who will work on the economic file in collaboration with the Vice President, Cevdat Yılmaz, who is also a finance specialist; and asserted that the priority in the upcoming stage will be to create stability in the Turkish investment and economic environment.

Eğri predicted that there will be no conflict between the views of Şimşek and Erdoğan regarding fiscal policy due to the numerous meetings they held before the former’s appointment as minister and their agreement on the broad outlines of fiscal policy and interest rates during the upcoming phase, which is expected to witness a relative increase.

The anticipated regional role

Nezar Krikish spoke about relations between Turkey and the Arab world within the context of each side’s pursuit of interests and the necessary policy adjustments. He stated that the Middle East, especially the Arab region, has lost its "real regional order", and underlined the importance of "regional states," with Turkey at the forefront, in restoring this lost regional order. He also identified some of the opposition's negatives, including portraying Turkey to the Turkish people as returning to the embrace of the West, forsaking the independence the country has achieved in its foreign policies over the past two decades.

Krikish confirmed that Turkey will not abandon the "region" nor withdraw from North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. He recommended that Turkey better understand these regions and establish an "entry and exit strategy" for itself. He also suggested seeking a "better regional system for the region" with important Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

In this regard, Krikish brought up the "positive change" that has occurred in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He contended that Saudi Arabia has started making decisions with a degree of independence from the West, for its own interests. Similarly, Egypt has begun to move "rationally," especially after it became evident that the United Arab Emirates was working against Egyptian interests in certain issues, using UAE's support for the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan through Khalifa Haftar in Libya as an example.

Kriksh recommended that Turkey foster this "rationality". In this context, he foresees Turkey strengthening its relations with the Arab world, and accentuated that what Turkey and the region lack is a strategic vision for a changing and interconnected world. He also accentuated the necessity of moving beyond the idea of "isolation and closing doors" because "the world is interdependent, and isolation and closure are not viable."