At critical historical conjunctures, taking distance from the object of observation and conducting a macro-level analysis might provide more satisfactory and refined outcomes. As the countdown to Turkey's historic general elections that promise to determine the political trajectory of the country in the next decade is nearing an end, we had such an opportunity to take distance from domestic debates and feel the perceptions of the international audience in Moscow. Daily Sabah Centre for Policy Studies and the Carnegie Center in Moscow organized a workshop this week to discuss the main political, social and economic dynamics of the forthcoming elections and prospective post-election scenarios. The delegation from Turkey included former advisor to the Prime Minister and Daily Sabah columnist Etyen Mahcupyan, Daily Sabah Editor-in-Chief Serdar Karagöz, Al Jazeera-Turk Director Gürkan Zengin; Institute of Strategic Thinking Director Birol Akgün, Public Politics and Democracy Studies (PODEM) Director Ayşe Yırcalı, Daily Sabah Centre for Policy Studies Director Pınar Kandemir, Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) researchers Kılıç Buğra Kanat and Talha Köse as well as myself as the director of Economic Research at SETA.
The event provided a perfect opportunity to feel firsthand the impact of the negative portrait of Turkey as drawn by major international media outlets such as The Guardian, Economist, Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the BBC. As general observations, first, the air of pessimism concerning Turkey's prospects pumped up by domestic and Western media outlets seems to have inflicted damage on mainstream political commentaries around issues such as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's alleged authoritarian turn, his lavish lifestyle and the Presidential Palace as well as the dangers of a transition to a presidential system. There is also a systematic effort to discredit Erdogan's personality and render his political legitimacy questionable by portraying Justice and Development Party (AK Party) supporters as an uneducated, ideologically rigid mass. Second, Turkey's strong democratization and economic development performance in the first decade of the 2000s is widely depicted as a matter of the past and trends of continuity in this respect are easily discarded. Third, the efforts against the unlawful "Gülenist plot" have not been effectively explained to the international audience, with the attempts by public authorities to restore rule of law wrongly interpreted as breaches of law and order. Fourth, connections are easily formed between domestic political debates and perceptions of international investors about Turkey's politico-economic trajectory to undermine investor confidence required for long-term investments. Surely, one of the most fundamental jobs of the government after the elections will be to kick start an intensive international public relations campaign in order to alleviate the constructed misperceptions and exaggerated fears of an "authoritarian turn" in Turkey, which were largely fed in view of diverging foreign policy preferences in the Middle East and elsewhere.
These elections constituted the best opportunity for the opposition to topple the AK Party's political dominance in a power transition. Yet the electoral campaigns of the main opposition parties dismally failed to give the electorate a glimmer of hope for an alternative vision. Instead, their strategies concentrated on pushing the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) above the 10 percent election threshold to enter Parliament as a party, thereby weakening the AK Party's hold on power and Erdogan's position as president with the hope that a coalition government might be in the cards. As we enter the last critical 24 hours before the elections, this negative strategy gives clear indications of backfiring despite biased polls and false accusations of vote rigging.
It seems pretty likely that the majority of the electorate will show commitment to preserve politico-economic stability at the ballot box, despite reservations concerning specific policies of the government. The media frenzy to push the HDP above the threshold will stay as another example of failed political engineering in Turkey's long history of multiparty politics. Yet whatever happens, the AK Party elite core will have to revise their ways, political rhetoric, economic policies and public relations strategies in order to govern Turkey's structural transformation in a more efficient, representative and inclusive manner. A new push in Turkey's democratization and development drive will await us on June 8 so that the accumulated legacy of the last decade is not wasted.