Turkish corporations hold large amounts of foreign exchange debt – a liability for the economy as monetary tightening takes hold in the United States and Europe and investor sentiment towards emerging markets turns sour. Rising inflation and signs of deterioration in Turkeyʹs national finances make the central bankʹs lack of independence all the more concerning. Talk of manipulating outsiders appears to play to the need for a scapegoat, but wonʹt go towards solving the underlying problems.

Defending Turkish sovereignty

Just as there have been appeals to xenophobic nationalism on economic matters, Erdogan has been attempting to play the same card in foreign policy. On 4 June, the government announced new military operations against Kurdistan Workersʹ Party (PKK) bases in the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq on Turkeyʹs south-eastern border.

Pro-government commentators, such as Ibrahim Karagul in the fiercely pro-AKP Yeni Safak newspaper, have described the operations as a defence of Turkish sovereignty and linked them directly to the elections.

Free Syrian Army members patrol as Turkish Armed Forces and Free Syrian Army (FSA) liberate 16 more villages and a strategic mountain within the "Operation Olive Branch" and deployed forces only 1.5 kilometres away from the town of Afrin in Syria on 12 March 2018 (photo: picture-alliance /AA/H. Al Homsi)
Fighting the Kurds on all fronts: as part of Erdoganʹs "Operation Olive Branch", Turkish and Free Syrian Army forces had ʹliberatedʹ 189 locations, including five town centres, 151 villages and 33 strategic areas in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region from the PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG by mid-March 2018. On 4 June Erdogan announced a new offensive against the PKK in the Qandil mountains along the border with Iraq. "An operation in Qandil could provide the AKP with agenda-setting power before the elections that might steer the national discussion away from economics," says Yusuf Safarti

"We do not expect terrorism to turn up on our doors; we are going to the source of terrorism before it comes to us," Erdogan said at a rally in the north-western town of Zonguldak the day after the military campaign was announced.

According to Yusuf Safarti, associate professor at the Illinois State University, government officials are using the military operation in Qandil as part of the election campaign. "Electorally the AKP can only benefit from keeping this issue on the national agenda or engaging in some sort of military operation against the PKK in northern Iraq and framing it as ʹentering Qandilʹ," Safarti said.

The Turkish army has been fighting the PKK for decades and is unlikely to make any major strategic gains any time soon, but the campaign plays to widespread nationalist sentiments, which are common not only in the AKPʹs base but also among supporters of the opposition parties.

The power of military distraction

In the past the AKP has successfully mobilised the army to boost its domestic support. In the aftermath of the June 2015 elections, Erdogan deliberately escalated the conflict with the PKK leading to greater AKP success in a November 2015 rerun of the poll. The ensuing conflict cost thousands of lives.

"The Turkish military operation to Afrin in northern Syria was also politicised by the AKP and the pro-government media," Professor Safarti said. "And polls showed that support for Erdogan increased considerably at that time, so an operation in Qandil could provide the AKP with agenda-setting power before the elections that might steer the national discussion away from economics."

The agenda for the elections has already been narrowed. Little is said about the vote being held under a state of emergency, or about restrictions on political opposition. Allegations that the government may have wire-tapped the largest opposition party, the CHP, are also off the agenda.

It is still unclear whether the AKP strategy will prove successful. The environment in which the vote is being held and the integral relationship between Erdoganʹs supporters and Turkeyʹs security forces should not be underestimated, said Burak Bilgehan Ozpek, assistant professor of International Relations at the TOBB University of Economics and Technology in Ankara: "At the end of the day, the political activism of opposition groups has been suspended by the state security apparatus."

Tom Stevenson

© Qantara.de 2018

More on this topic
In submitting this comment, the reader accepts the following terms and conditions: Qantara.de reserves the right to edit or delete comments or not to publish them. This applies in particular to defamatory, racist, personal, or irrelevant comments or comments written in dialects or languages other than English. Comments submitted by readers using fantasy names or intentionally false names will not be published. Qantara.de will not provide information on the telephone. Readers' comments can be found by Google and other search engines.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.