aka "Turkey precap"
Happy new year and welcome to “Turkey precap” as coined by Paul T. Levin, one of 13 contributors to this special predictions issue, which we hope serves as a guide to the months ahead.
The election year we’ve talked so much about is here. The opposition candidate and voting date remain a mystery, but we do know Barış Manço released an album titled “2023” and its earthy notes pair well with the sharp foresight below. Cheers!
Lisel Hintz, assistant professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University
I expect to see the AKP use every tool in the competitive authoritarian toolkit to stay in power. This involves making an opposition claim to victory as difficult as possible – by raising AKP support through populist handouts and nationalist rhetoric, and by using the institutional resources it has cultivated over 20 years to weaken and divide the opposition.
If an opposition victory looks likely, the regime's attempts to stay in power then involve a cost of repression calculation, but I would not be surprised to see violence used against protesters claiming electoral fraud. I would also not be surprised to see elections held under a state of emergency, as was the case in 2018 – any violence or unrest resulting from a new military ground campaign in Syria could be a pretext for this.
Whether the opposition pulls off a victory or Erdoğan remains president for another term will profoundly affect prospects for democratization, economic development and foreign policy reorientation (away, for example, from support of Hamas if the AKP leaves power). Mending the societal polarization the ruling party exacerbated for its own gain will take much longer, irrespective of the election outcome.
Selim Koru, a Turkey analyst and author of the Kültürkampf newsletter
The problem this year is that the opposition is too divided to win the election, but the government is too reviled to continue governing without major problems.
I think we're likely to see Erdoğan winning the presidency. This will cause great public unrest, making his supporters more aggressive. If the opposition wins a parliamentary majority, it might cool tensions a bit, and the nationalists in the opposition could be given some perfunctory roles in the legislative process. The country would be more divided, especially between the big cities and everywhere else.
In foreign policy, Turkey will continue to expand its regional influence and its relations with the US and Europe will probably get considerably worse, possibly reaching a breaking point.
Sinem Adar, an associate at the Centre for Applied Turkey Studies (CATS) at SWP
The ruling alliance is weakening, and the authoritarian state cannot fully consolidate. In upcoming elections, a change of power is conceivable, although not guaranteed.
However, it is also unclear whether a new government would automatically bring stability. In the short and medium terms, the country faces significant challenges such as the worsening economic crisis, increasing nationalism, and widespread conspiracy theories driven by anti-Western perceptions.
All factors lead to polarization and often violent discharges within Turkish society, with repercussions within and outside Turkey. Against this background, the opposition's courage, political creativity, and its capacity for compromise will be the most influential factors shaping the country’s future political trajectory.
Özer Sencar, director of the MetroPoll polling company
I do not see the possibility of a long-term economic recovery under the current conditions and with the current administrators.
The most important factor that will determine the election results will be the opposition candidate. Unless there is someone with a significant success story in the opposition and strong leadership qualities who can fight Erdoğan, the elections will not produce a surprise result and Erdoğan will continue [his tenure].
Ekrem İmamoğlu is such a person, with remarkable achievements in previous positions, but it is [unclear] if he will be able to take the stage as a candidate.
Nienke van Heukelingen, research fellow at the Clingendael Institute
Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria – countries with a strong AKP base – are bracing for the upcoming elections in Turkey. The reason: the past has shown that the Turkish diaspora vote has the potential to decide elections back home, and consequently that Erdoğan and ‘his’ AKP are willing to confront European countries in order to convince their constituents there to vote for the AKP.
The 2023 elections will not be any different. Given that every vote counts, Erdoğan and the AKP will not only try to appeal to their loyal diaspora voters, but are also expected to do whatever it takes to discourage opponents abroad to vote – with possible chaos in diaspora communities as a result.
Some European countries have stepped up their defense mechanisms. Germany and, more recently, the Netherlands no longer allow foreign representatives to campaign three months prior to an election in their home country. Yet, whether this can hold back a president who is looking for loopholes – when it comes to his own political future – remains to be seen.
Ryan Gingeras, historian and professor at the Naval Postgraduate School
2023 promises to be a pivotal year for Turkish politics and society. Win or lose, Erdoğan will continue to shape the country’s politics for some time to come.
Should he emerge victorious from the election in June, he likely will fortify his autocracy and hammer his opponents. Should he be defeated, he most probably will assume the role of the defiant opponent of the new regime (even if he is the subject of legal prosecution).
The question is how society reacts to either of these scenarios. Depending on the circumstances, the social consequences of the election may be quite tumultuous.
E. Oya Özarslan, founding chair of Transparency International in Turkey
As the saying goes: "It's not the people who vote that count, it's the people who count the votes." So, there is a valid question about election integrity this spring.
In Turkey, there are no adequate political financing or election campaign financing laws for general elections. Recent changes in the election law also bring a new dimension to this gray picture.
It seems Pres. Erdoğan – who carries two hats as the head of the state and the chair of the governing party – will be exempt from the restrictions of the election law regarding the use of public resources. That means the president will still be able to use state cars, planes and all the other state resources during the election period.
It is unbelievable to even consider such a thing under universal political integrity standards, but the law conveniently does not regulate this point.
This is an excerpt. For Özarslan’s full breakdown of how 2022 electoral law changes can impact the election process, visit our members-only Slack channel.
Omar Kadkoy, policy analyst at TEPAV
One of the topics to keep an eye on in 2023 is the prospect of Turkey’s normalization with Syria. This will be a continuation of what began in the second half of 2022, namely when Erdoğan expressed his willingness to meet with Assad following trilateral discussions between Turkish, Russian, and Syrian officials.
A topic driving said prospect is the issue of Syrians’ repatriation. So far, parties across the political spectrum in Turkey made unrealistic promises regarding Syrians’ return to play on the emotions of voters.
For the time being, it is important for Erdoğan to have his photo taken with Assad, but the latter is in no rush to play along before 2023. Above all else, Syria is an unsafe country for repatriation and is highly likely to remain so long after the 2023 elections. Therefore, returning Syrians forcefully, now or then, would be in violation of human rights.
On NATO expansion
Paul T. Levin, director of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies
Someone said that one week in Turkish politics is like one year anywhere else, so predicting one Turkish year ahead is a fool’s errand. And 2023 may well be unusually unpredictable, with both elections and the 100-year anniversary. Having said that, I suspect that we will see [Turkish parliament] approve the Swedish and Finnish NATO applications during the year.
The exact timing will depend on many factors: When will Hungary ratify and leave Turkey to oppose enlargement alone? (Perhaps not before February 20.) When will there be concrete results from legal actions following changes in Swedish anti-terrorism laws? (It could take time.) Will there be any “side offerings” by other NATO allies? (Will Sen. Menendez approve F-16 sales?)
Most importantly, what will Erdoğan’s electoral calculations say? (When is it more costly to hold out than to declare victory and remove the veto?)
Nigar Göksel, Turkey project director for the International Crisis Group
After over four decades of failed talks between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots under UN auspices to reunify as a bizonal, bicommunal federation, prospects to return to formal talks are dim.
Turkey is determined to ensure Turkish Cypriots are not left in the position to capitulate as a result of isolation and economic hardship, while Greek Cypriots are set to continue deepening their strategic ties with the EU, the US and regional actors to counter what they see as escalatory moves by Ankara.
With elections looming in the first half of 2023 in the Republic of Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey, tensions related to the Cyprus problem are likely to remain high. Even though progress will remain difficult in the aftermath of elections, the less politicized climate may enable small steps that can stem tensions, build trust and develop cooperation for mutual benefit.
Risks may be compounded by initiatives by the RoC to export natural gas, Ankara’s initiatives for the international recognition of the “TRNC” or if the divided island gets caught up in Moscow-West showdowns.
On EU-Turkey relations
Ilke Toygür, a CSIS senior associate and professor of European geopolitics at the University Carlos III of Madrid
There are three key things to watch. The first is the upcoming elections in Turkey. Many actors in Europe have been waiting for the elections to define their next moves. They mainly have three questions in mind: 1) if there will be political change; 2) if there will be any concrete changes in Turkish foreign policy (especially when it comes to Cyprus, the Eastern Mediterranean and Syria) 3) if there will be a desire to improve relations with the EU in a more realistic way. The answers will define the tone of the relationship.
The second area to watch is the direction of reconstruction for wider Europe. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, relations intensified with the Western Balkans and the Association Trio with concrete advancements on their accession process. Connectivity and cooperation in wider Europe have been very important agenda items. Turkey is mostly on the periphery of all these developments. If there is political change and a reconfirmation of Turkey’s Western vocation, there might be advancements for Turkey, as well.
Lastly, Turkey’s relations with Russia have the utmost importance for the West. Both during the war and in its aftermath, Turkey’s positioning will play a key role in defining the future of EU-Turkey relations in 2023.
On the economy
The anonymous authors of the Galata Chronicles economy newsletter
2022 was a year in which we observed extraordinary levels of price inflation and a high current account deficit in the Turkish economy. We think the former will prove somewhat sticky. Various populist measures on the road to the elections and the declines in energy prices will balance each other and we’ll end the year with 37 percent inflation. For the latter, once again because of the dramatic falls in natural gas and oil prices over the last 4 months, we are relatively optimistic and expect a $25 billion current account deficit.
Turkish stocks had a truly historic rise in 2022 (almost 100 percent in USD terms). For 2023, as long as other instruments continue to not offer real returns against inflation, we are still optimistic about the performance of Turkish stocks. However, we do not think that a comparable climb will take place in 2023. Investors should be quite selective about which sectors or stocks to invest in, and if they don’t have the requisite financial savvy, funds that invest in a diversified basket might be a good option.
Uğur Gürses, an economy columnist and former central bank official
The middle class collapsed and poverty spread in Turkey last year. Spending more from the budget ahead of the elections and using public resources that way will continue during the first half of 2023. However, I believe the country will regain its long lost joy in 2023.
Yes, the impoverishment of the people in Turkey is perceivable in all terms, but once you hit rock bottom, all you have to do is be hopeful.
Turkey is a strong country capable of overcoming all problems. Many [1994 and 2001] crises have been overcome in this country. Turkey will get through this, too. Turkey will pull up from the bad days as long as the outlook toward the future is positive and hopeful.
An economic recipe cannot get Turkey out of the current situation. When the politics gets better, as I hope it will, everything will change. All that is needed is a shift in politics. If the government changes after the election, Turkey will change very quickly, and we will all be surprised by its impetus.
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