9 June 2011
Fadi Hakura

Fadi Hakura

Associate Fellow, Europe Programme


Turkey's incumbent Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) is expected to win a third term single party government on 12 June 2011. Although the election outcome is not in doubt, the margin of victory will have major domestic and foreign policy ramifications.

Domestic Policy

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is aiming for at least a 330-seat super-majority in the 550-seat Turkish parliament to single-handedly draft a new constitution and submit to a referendum. If he secures a two-thirds super-majority, he can pass a new constitution without a referendum.

Mr Erdogan proposes controversially to introduce (and eventually occupy) a powerful Russian or French-style presidency at the expense of a vastly weakened parliament. That desire is vehemently opposed by the main opposition parties and senior AKP stalwarts. At the time of writing, credible opinion polls reveal that the ruling AKP is closest to 330 seats. Above 330 seats, the support of opposition members of parliament may be unnecessary; below 330 seats, their support will be imperative.

There are little to no indications that the next AKP government will undertake any major reform initiatives on the Kurdish issue, economy, minority rights and further democratisation. In a total role reversal, the secular-oriented Republican Peoples Party - the chief opposition party - has offered far more ambitious and specific proposals on those key issues.

It looks likely that confrontational politics and societal polarisation is set to intensify. Concerns over lifestyle issues, growing social conservatism, media freedoms and power consolidation will most probably exacerbate in the post-election period. In the absence of deepening structural economic reforms, Turkish growth rates are on track to significantly moderate in the context of a toughening global economy.

Foreign Policy

Turkey's foreign policy has come under a severe test due to the dynamic changes in the Middle East and North Africa. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's claims of an ethical foreign policy is clashing with Turkey's pursuit of national interests. On one hand, Prime Minister Erdogan was swift in calling for the removal of the unpopular ex-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and ex-Tunisian president Zein Al Abideen Bin Ali. Yet he was far more reticent with Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi, who signed $ 15 billion of contracts with Turkish companies.

Turkey's relationship with Iran and Syria came to symbolise the much vaunted "zero problems with the neighbours" policy after decades of hostility. Nowadays, Turkey's sponsorship of the Syrian opposition and tacit support of Saudi Arabia rather than Iran over Bahrain has fractured those relations. Any implosion of Syria may further complicate ties between Sunni-tilting Turkey and the Iran-Iraq-Syria Shiite triangle.

Overall, Turkish regional influence will be circumscribed by Egypt's foreign policy assertiveness, US support of Israel and Iranian proclivity to flex its muscles in Iraq, Lebanon and the Gulf Arab region. Additionally, the increasing dependency of Turkey on Iran's hydrocarbon supplies to satisfy a rising domestic appetite will limit aspirations.

Going forward, Europe and the US should expect a more independent, prickly and determined Turkish foreign policy. It will require careful management and care to minimise disappointment and maximise joint cooperation and coordination.

Turkey project