Last week’s electoral victory will afford President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AK party leadership an opportunity to continue shaping the country’s foreign policy single-handedly, without having to compromise with the highly fragmented opposition, Turkish analysts say.
No major foreign policy shift is expected, several analysts told Al Jazeera, as a single party government will be able to take a more decisive position on many issues, including the Syrian crisis.
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“I don’t expect a drastic change. Rather, there will be some fine-tuning,” said Galip Dalay, a senior associate fellow on Turkey and Kurdish Affairs at the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies.
“The AK party will keep the contour of its Middle Eastern policy intact. It will remain committed to the revolutionary movements across the region, including its support for the Muslim Brotherhood-led political parties,” he added.
The AK party gained nearly 50 percent of the vote in this month’s election, reclaiming its majority in parliament.
Earlier elections held on June 7, had seen the AK party lose its 13-year single party rule, but four political parties that made their way to the parliament failed to form a coalition government, and snap elections were called.
In its revised election manifesto, published in October, the AK party declared that it would continue to pursue a “multi-dimensional, value-based” foreign policy, founded on “a clear vision regarding Turkey’s place in the world”.
Davutoglu will open the space for a new foreign minister to undertake such a process, or assert himself as the main foreign policymaker.”]
According to one Turkish state official, who spoke to Al Jazeera after the AK party’s electoral victory, the party hopes to continue this strategy: “After the Arab Spring, Turkey embraced a value-based foreign policy and supported the peoples’ struggle against oppressive regimes. The new government will not be changing this policy.”
Faruk Logoglu, a former Adana MP for the opposing Republican People’s Party (CHP), agreed that the AK party government will continue in the same vein when it comes to foreign policy, but expressed concern about the possible outcomes of this strategy.
Logoglu told the Zaman daily newspaper that the AK party has long been criticised for its “divisive and sectarian” policies in the Middle East, noting: “The chances are that the AK party will continue to pursue the same disastrous policies of the last six to seven years.”
For Turkey to move in the right direction, according to Logoglu, there has to be “a rapid, complete overhaul of the country’s foreign policy. Is this likely to happen? The short answer is no”.
Other analysts disagree. Ziya Meral, director of the London-based Centre on Religion and Global Affairs, says Turkish foreign policy is becoming more proactive.
“The election results and a change in the foreign policy team might enable a new proactive foreign policy to emerge,” said Meral, who is also secretary of the British-Turkish Foreign Policy Platform.
“What is not clear is whether [Prime Minister Ahmet] Davutoglu will open the space for a new foreign minister to undertake such a process, or assert himself as the main foreign policymaker.”
The key challenge facing the AK party government in the near future will undoubtedly be the ongoing war in neighbouring Syria, viewed by Turkish policymakers as a threat to the country’s national security.
Some analysts expect the AK party to follow a pragmatic strategy regarding the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – one of the most contentious issues – during the party’s next term in power.
Removing Assad from power and preventing Syrian Kurds from establishing an autonomous entity near the Turkish border have been among Turkey’s most important foreign policy goals. Recent reports, however, pointed out that Turkey was ready to accept a six-month transition period for Assad.
While this move has been perceived as a sign that Turkey may be softening its attitude towards the Syrian government, local officials told Reuters that “they only agreed to this plan because they had been assured of Assad’s eventual departure”.
The Turkish state official who spoke to Al Jazeera declined to clarify the government’s position on such a transitional period, but emphasised that the government is not changing its general strategy on Syria, nor its attitude towards the current Syrian leadership.
“Turkey’s policy on Syria will be working towards the formation of a new system, in which the Syrian people can be governed according to their own will,” he said.
Meral believes that Turkey’s possible acceptance of a transition process in Syria, which accommodates Assad, is within the realms of possibility. “Neither Turkey, nor any of its allies, including the US and the UK, think that Assad should remain in power. However, there is acknowledgement that there will be a transitional process in which, if not Assad himself, the regime will have to play a part,” he said.
The main question, Meral added, is what comes after removing Assad: “For Turkey, beyond Assad, the Syria question now is also a national security question due to the PKK’s [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] gains across the Turkish borders.”
Another important aspect of the Syrian conflict is the role played by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The Kurdish force has been a key ally for the US-led coalition fighting ISIL and controls large parts of northern Syria on the Turkish border. But Turkey regards the PYD as the Syrian offshoot of the outlawed PKK, which has been fighting for more Kurdish autonomy in the southeastern areas of the country since 1984.
In late October, Davutoglu confirmed that the Turkish military had attacked fighters from the PYD in northern Syria.
Ankara’s attitude towards the Kurds, who have been leading the fight against ISIL, is a source of constant friction between the Turkish government and its NATO allies. Analysts agree that the AK party government will not change its policy and will continue to argue that the PYD remains as great a threat to Turkey’s national security as ISIL.
“The PYD is an incredibly sensitive subject in Turkey,” said Ali Faik Demir, an expert on Turkish foreign policy at Istanbul’s Galatasaray University. The new government, he noted, will insist on having a secure zone controlled by moderate forces in northern Syria and will not accept the PYD’s control over the entirety of the Turkish-Syrian border under any circumstances.
“Turkey will not give in to the pressures coming from its allies. The government will not accept losing its connection with the Arabic and Turkic peoples of Syria, no matter what.”
Meral concurred, noting: “Neither the US nor any of Turkey’s allies are under any illusion about the scope of the utility of the PYD for their Syria policies. It is clear that Turkey is an integral part of the solution on Syria, and alienating it and causing direct security risks for Turkey only problematises the issues.
“An indefinite ceasefire and end to the PKK’s armed campaigns against Turkey would result in Turkey changing its threat perceptions of advances of Kurdish groups in Syria.”