by instituDE, published on 20 March 2023


New polls show Erdogan behind Kilicdaroglu for presidential seat

According to recent polls, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the presidential candidate of the Turkish opposition bloc, is ahead of President Erdogan by more than ten percentage points ahead of elections on May 14.

The polls conducted separately by Aksoy Research, Alf Research, and Piar Research also place Erdogan's AK Party (AKP) and its allies at least six points behind the opposition coalition known as the Nation Alliance for the parliamentary seats. The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) seems to pass the 7% electoral threshold easily.

Labor and Freedom Alliance to run as joint front in elections 

The Labor and Freedom Alliance, Turkey's second-largest opposition bloc, has chosen to run as a joint front in the 2023 general elections.

The alliance, comprised of the Labor Party (EMEP), the Workers' Movement Party (EHP), the Social Freedom Party (TOP), the Federation of Socialist Assemblies (SMF), the Workers' Party of Turkey (TIP), and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), met on March 16 at the HDP headquarters to discuss the details of their electoral cooperation. The coalition will form an "election alliance," the parties declared after the meeting.

The Labor and Freedom Alliance also announced that they would share their common stance on the Presidential election with the public at a press conference as soon as possible.

Kilicdaroglu's scheduled visit to pro-Kurdish party postponed

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader and opposition bloc's presidential candidate Kilicdaroglu was expected to visit the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) on March 18.

But on March 17, the HDP issued a statement stating that Kilicdaroglu's visit had been postponed due to the busy schedule of the party's co-chairs.


Erdogan's ruling party signals a return to orthodox policies

Four people who declined to be named told Reuters that the draft election manifesto of the ruling AK Party marks a return to more orthodox, free-market economic policies.

The sources claimed that the party's manifesto for the upcoming election would revert to a more conventional strategy and made no reference to Ankara's recent unorthodox economic policies.

The sources also added that Mehmet Simsek, a former deputy prime minister and finance minister who enjoys high regard in international circles, was being considered by Erdogan for a key role in managing the economy.

Turkey's account deficit hits record level in January; budget deficit widens after quakes

Central bank figures released on March 13 showed that Turkey's current account deficit increased to 9.85 billion dollars in January, the highest level since 1984, due to a sharp increase in gold imports and rising energy import costs.  Turkey's trade deficit increased by 38% to 14.24 billion dollars in the same period.

According to the Finance Ministry, the central government budget recorded a deficit of 170.56 billion lira in February due to actions taken to reduce the earthquake's economic impact, such as deferring debt payments and providing compensation and help to the earthquake victims.


More than 200 detainees after Newroz celebrations in Istanbul

Police detained more than 200 people on March 19 following Newroz celebrations in Istanbul.

After the festivities concluded and the crowd began to disperse from the square, the police encircled and apprehended 60 people who were chanting while leaving the square. Then, the police prevented others from leaving the square, resulting in the apprehension of over 200 people.


Turkey approves Finland's NATO membership

During a news conference following his meeting with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto in Ankara on March 17, President Erdogan said that Helsinki had received Turkey's approval after taking concrete steps to keep promises to crack down on what Ankara considers terrorists and to open up defense exports. 

Erdogan told reporters that the government decided to initiate the ratification of Finland's accession process to NATO in the Turkish parliament and expected to be endorsed by the parliament before the upcoming elections on May 14.

Niinisto hailed the decision but emphasized the importance of neighboring Sweden joining the alliance.

Seven killed in a strange helicopter crash in northern Iraq

Seven people died in a strange helicopter crash in northern Iraq, including militants from the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK.

According to local sources, the AS350 Eurocopter crashed on March 15 night in the district of Chamanke in Dohuk province in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region. The sources claimed two helicopters were at the scene, one crashed and the other flew into the Kurdish-controlled area of neighboring Syria.

PKK denied ownership and said they had no helicopters. The Iraqi Kurdish regional government notified the U.S.-led coalition and Turkey about the crash, but each also insisted the helicopter did not belong to them.

An anonymous regional intelligence source disclosed to Al-Monitor that the helicopter carried six YPG personnel and two pilots. The source alleged that the aircraft was en route from Hasakah in the Kurdish-controlled northeast region of Syria to Sulaymaniyah, under the control of the PUK, in Iraq. "In order to avoid detection by Turkish radars, they were flying at an extremely low altitude. Adverse weather conditions, including persistent rain for the past three days, may have contributed to the accident due to limited visibility," the source revealed to Al-Monitor.

Quadripartite meeting in Moscow planned for Ankara-Damascus rapprochement postponed

A source from the Turkish foreign ministry told Reuters on March 16 that a meeting of the deputy foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Syria, scheduled for March 15–16 to resolve the crisis between Ankara and Damascus, has been postponed until an unannounced date. The source claimed that the meeting was postponed due to technical issues.

On the same day, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, declared that he would only meet Turkish President Erdogan after Turkey ends its illegal occupation and withdraws its soldiers from northern Syria.

The grain deal renewed for at least 60 days

A deal allowing the secure transport of Ukrainian grain over the Black Sea was extended for at least 60 days on March 18, the deal's expiration date.

The United Nations and Turkey stated that the deal had been extended, but no specific period was given. Mykola Solsky, Ukraine's Agricultural Minister, said it had been extended for 120 days. However, Russia claimed they had only agreed to renew the accord for 60 days, stressing that any extension beyond mid-May would depend on easing some Western sanctions.

Turkish FM visits Cairo amid increasing relations

On March 18, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with his Egyptian colleague in Cairo, the first visit by a top Turkish official after a decade of strained relations following the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Mursi, an ally of Turkey at the time, in 2013.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry stated that negotiations with Turkey about possibly reestablishing diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level would occur at "the appropriate time" during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart.

On his part, Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that Turkey would boost its diplomatic ties with Egypt to the ambassadorial level as soon as possible.


"Why Was the Meeting Between Turkey and Syria Cancelled?" by Mustafa Enes Esen, Institute for Diplomacy and Economy

The meeting between the deputy foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Syria, which was scheduled to occur on March 15 and 16 in Moscow, has been postponed indefinitely.

The postponement of the meeting between the deputy foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Syria in Moscow indicates the presence of underlying problems between Turkey and Syria. Both sides need to have the sincerity to improve ties, and it seems that none of the parties act in good faith in this regard. While the Kremlin urges Damascus to improve its relationship with Turkey for its own good, al-Assad is wary of the Turkish president due to his past behavior. 

Moreover, the Damascus government expects a change of government in Turkey in the upcoming elections that may prompt an improvement in Turkish-Syrian relations. In this context, it is highly unlikely that Bashar al-Assad will undertake any actions that might enhance Erdogan's popularity before the Turkish presidential elections. On the other hand, if Erdoğan secures another election, Ankara will have less motivation to comply with Syrian demands to strike a deal.

"Erdogan's challenger faces delicate balancing act to win over Turkey's Kurds" by Fehim Tastekin, Al-Monitor

Turkey's main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu faces the tough task of enlisting crucial Kurdish support for his bid to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan without antagonizing nationalist voters in the diverse opposition bloc that nominated him as a joint candidate in the upcoming elections.

Kurds could back Kilicdaroglu without insisting on any concrete assurances in return. They know that extracting a promise on resolving the Kurdish issue is beyond reach at present, but would like to at least see some acknowledgement of partnership from the alliance. Though the joint policy paper of the Nation Alliance fails to even mention the Kurdish problem, the Kurds hope that a victory for the opposition could lead to a degree of normalization, the release of political prisoners, the removal of government trustees from mayoral offices that were originally won by Kurdish politicians and, ultimately, a political atmosphere where the resumption of efforts to resolve the Kurdish question could be discussed. 

Fielding its own candidate instead of backing Kilicdaroglu could produce a high political cost for the Kurdish political movement. Having suffered extensively under Erdogan's rule in recent years, it cannot afford to face accusations of indirectly helping Erdogan to win reelection. The optimistic forecast is that, despite her tough rhetoric, Aksener will tacitly shelve her reservations to dialogue with the HDP. Of course, she could turn those reservations into constraints limiting Kilicdaroglu's wiggle room.

Trends in International Arms Transfers 2022 Report, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 

Turkey ranked 12th with 1.1% of exports, the UAE 18th at 0.4% and Jordan 25th accounting for 0.2% of global arms exports. Meanwhile, Turkey's arms exports increased by 69% from the 2013-2017 period.

According to the report, the USA's arms exports to its NATO ally Turkey were at a low level in 2018–22 as a result of increasingly strained bilateral relations. Turkey was the 27th largest recipient of US arms in 2018–22, down from 7th largest in 2013–17.

In 2019, US expelled Turkey out of the F-35 stealth fighter jet program due to Ankara's acquisition of Russian-made S-400s.

Turkey's attempt to purchase additional F-16 fighter jets and modification kits is also facing opposition in the American Congress.

Interview with Zubeyir Aydar, executive member of the Kurdistan Communities Union: "Kurdish umbrella group under Ocalan says Erdogan will never offer real peace to Turkey's Kurds", Al-Monitor

Aydar: Lest we forget, even before the election date was announced, Erdogan revealed his campaign strategy. The opening shot was to have been another military intervention in Rojava. The bomb attack in Istanbul that they tried to pin on the SDF? Everybody knows it had nothing to do with the SDF. Yet they were hoping to use it as a pretext to attack Rojava and they did in fact start an air campaign. They would have mounted a ground incursion as well, but they did not get a green light [from Russia and the United States] for that. There's a pattern here. Don't forget that prior to the 2018 presidential campaign, Turkey invaded Afrin. On that occasion, most of the Turkish opposition rallied around the government. Erdogan exploited nationalist sentiments as a propaganda tool ahead of the elections. Had there not been an earthquake, a ground attack would have ensued. But then again, the risk of one has not abated.

Al-Monitor: Are you saying there could be a ground operation against northeast Syria prior to the elections to create a rally-round-the-flag effect?

Aydar: It is hard to predict what the government will do, particularly with regard to Rojava. By creating a nationalist wave, Erdogan would be seeking to splinter the opposition, to draw away nationalist elements inside the CHP and the [conservative nationalist Iyi or Good Party].

Al-Monitor: Do you believe there is any chance that Erdogan will reach out to the Kurds again in the hope of drawing their support in the elections?

Aydar: No, he won't. When he came to us in the past, Erdogan was never sincere. It was always tactical. We gave him a chance. Relying on past experience, I can say that while he may play some games, he will never come to the Kurds with true intentions of making peace.

"It's going to be hard to get rid of Turkey's Erdogan" by Jamie Dettmer, Politico

In any fairly run election, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would be heading for electoral defeat.

But let's be frank, Turkey's presidential and parliamentary elections in May won't be observing Queensberry Rules, and it shouldn't be treated as such.

If the unthinkable does happen, and the system fails to deliver for Erdogan on election night, how can he afford to lose? Opposition politicians have already made clear that if triumphant, they will be pushing for him to face corruption and abuse-of-power charges along with members of his family — not to mention his inner circle.

"If Erdogan senses defeat, no one should expect him to leave quietly," reckoned Sinan Ciddi [an associate professor of national security studies]. "If defeat seems imminent, judges and elections officials loyal to Erdogan may overturn the results, as they attempted to do by annulling Istanbul's mayoral election results in 2019. Or he may even rely on the police and the armed forces. Indeed, he may not relinquish power after having lost an election," he added.

As May inches closer, there's a lot for the Turkish opposition and Turkey's Western allies to worry about. 

"How Turkey may turn Iranian-Saudi normalization into win-win", by Fehim Tastekin, Amwaj

Iran and Saudi Arabia's move to normalize relations following Chinese mediation is of great interest to Turkey. If, in line with Saudi demands, Iran ends its war for influence in the region—which is not a realistic expectation—then Turkey will be one of the main beneficiaries.

For Erdogan, it is very important that Emirati and Saudi investments are not interrupted at a time when domestic economic turbulence is growing, particularly in an election year. On the other hand, the increasing Saudi economic competition with the UAE may offer Turkey new opportunities in its commercial relations with both Gulf Arab states. The decrease in Arab-Iranian tensions may also bring to the fore plans to connect the Gulf to Turkey via Iran. Here, a win-win situation might be taking shape for Ankara and Tehran.

The Iranian-Saudi rapprochement may also be reflected in the Syrian equation. Turkey desires Iran's decline in Syria at least as much as Saudi Arabia. This can reunite Saudi-Turkish efforts to reduce Iranian influence.