Turkish elections: what should Russia expect?


Two candidates for the presidency of the Republic – two different ways to the future of Russia-Turkey relations.

May 14 is a decisive day in the fate of Turkey, where the elections will show what path the Republic will take. It is not only important for Turkey – the results will affect the country's relations with Russia, the EU, the U.S., NATO, Syria, Ukraine, and even Armenia and Azerbaijan.

I should point out right away: I am writing this commentary when only the preliminary results are known, but some conclusions can already be drawn as the ballots are processed. The final result of the vote count of 64,167,000 Turkish voters will be known today, May 15, and the official results will be known on March 19.

...At first, four presidential candidates were announced in the election race, but Muharrem Ince withdrew himself after a rather murky scandal with sexual overtones, which in a Muslim country is suicidal for a politician. And there are three of them left: 69-year-old Tayyip Erdogan, 74-year-old Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and 55-year-old Sinan Ogan. The latter had practically no chance of winning, but he is an interesting man, a graduate of MGIMO, he has lived in Azerbaijan for a long time, he has a PhD from Moscow State University, a former member of parliament, and a member of the Valdai Club.

Erdogan has unique experience on his side, and he has something to show his voters from what he has achieved. On the other hand, there is some public dissatisfaction with his long tenure in power. Admittedly, under his rule Turkey has not only become a regional power, but a leading player in many geopolitical issues. Against Erdogan are his deteriorating health, reproaches for suppressing the opposition, a falling national currency, inflation, the consequences of the earthquake in February this year, which killed about 50 thousand people and uncovered some corruption in the country's construction industry. Erdogan's attitude to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is also interesting: on the one hand, he is one of the guarantors of the grain agreement, on the other hand, he supplies his weapons to Ukraine, but he has not joined those who call for and participate in the political and economic isolation of Russia. Erdogan is guided in this case by absolute pragmatism, making excellent money from Russian gas and oil, making his country a major hub, and actively trying to become a key player in the organization of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.

His main rival is Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, a candidate from six opposition parties. He is considered a pro-Western candidate who promises to return to a parliamentary republic, solve the Kurdish issue and declare rapprochement with the EU and the United States. It is indicative of his pro-Western position that just before the elections he made a bellicose statement accusing Russia, without giving any evidence, of trying to influence the elections in Turkey. The candidate wrote on Twitter in Turkish and Russian, addressing Russia: "Dear Russian friends, you are behind the montages, conspiracies, Deep Fake content and recordings that were exposed in this country yesterday. If you want our friendship to continue after May 15, keep your hands off the Turkish state. We still stand for cooperation and friendship."

He immediately received a response from Erdogan, who offered to make public how Europe and America are trying to interfere in this election. Here are his words: "Now Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu started to mock Russia as well. He said Russia had interfered in elections. Aren't you ashamed of yourself? What would you say if I told you that the United States, Britain, and Germany interfered in the elections [in Turkey]?" By the way, after that Kılıçdaroğlu avoided further discussion.

According to preliminary opinion polls, it was clear that the struggle for the presidency would be hot. None of the candidates had an overwhelming majority before the elections began. Forty-three percent were ready to vote for Erdogan, while 42.5 percent were for his opponent. So sociologists did not rule out a second round of elections, which, according to Turkish law, should be held on May 28.

Major cities were expected to be Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's electorate, but rural Turkey was for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It is enough to recall the mass demonstrations against Erdogan that took place in Istanbul. But one cannot ignore the fact that just before the elections Erdogan raised the salaries of civil servants by 45 percent, and there are about 700,000 of them in Turkey. And if one bears in mind that each of them has family members as well, and Turkish families are traditionally large, one can safely multiply this figure by at least four. So it turns out that Erdogan was able to attract the votes of another 3 million voters.

While Erdogan's supporters are the Turkish people from the countryside, the rural population and the religious part, and Erdogan himself has pursued soft but Islamization throughout his years in power, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's supporters are the youth and women, who make up a large part of the population in Turkey.

It is interesting how the candidates behaved during their voting. Erdogan arrived at the polling station with his wife and stood in a long line, and when they tried to let him go first, he refused, saying that everyone was equal at the ballot box. And then he started to hand out money to the children who had come with their parents. He gave out about 200 liras, which is not vote-bribing because children do not vote. But undoubtedly, this theatrical gesture was also intended to win the sympathy of the voters. It is true that children do not vote, but their parents do.

Kılıçdaroğlu voted with his wife in Ankara and, according to a RIA Novosti correspondent, refused to answer his question whether he would participate in talks with Putin if he won the election.

What might change if Tayyip Erdogan suddenly loses the election? What changes can be expected in the attitude of the Republic of Turkey towards Syria, the Karabakh conflict, Russia and Ukraine, and the countries of Central Asia? My guess is that there will be no dramatic changes, but Russia may not have such a relationship of trust as it now has with Erdogan. But there is no need to say that there will be a breakup, because the economic ties between Russia and Turkey are too close and mutually beneficial. Joining the sanctions against Russia would severely damage the Turkish economy, which is weakened enough in the current situation.

After processing 100% of the ballots, Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the leader. He has 49.24 percent. His rival Kılıçdaroğlu has 45.06 percent. At the same time, the independent Turkish agency ANKA, as well as a number of opposition representatives, reported that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was ahead of Erdogan.

In any case, none of the candidates received more than 50% of the votes, which means that we are waiting for the second round, which will be held on May 28.

It is possible that Turkey may not accept the results calmly, and the supporters of each candidate, believing that he won, may behave unpredictably. Although Erdogan has said that he is ready to resign if he loses the election, we will see how this plays out. Especially since there is not much time left before we find out who will lead the Republic of Turkey and what path it will take.