Analysing international policy processes and Lithuania’s role in them
Events May 15, 2023

Discussion “First round of elections in Turkey – repercussions for NATO and the EU”

Photo source: Sachelle Babbar/ Scanpix

The Eastern Europe Studies Centre hosted a remote discussion “Turkey’s First Round of Elections – Implications for NATO and the EU”, where Dr Dimitar Bechev, author of a book on Recep Tayyip Erdogan, lecturer at the University of Oxford, and non-resident senior analyst at the Atlantic Council Europe Centre, shared his insights on the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections. Tomas Janeliūnas, Chief Research Programme Officer at the EESC, moderated the discussion.

According to Mr Bechev, Kilicdaroglu was predicted to win 49% of the vote and Erdogan 45%. However, the opposite happened. Mr Bechev highlighted the main reasons for the different outcome of the first round of the presidential elections. “First of all, people see Erdogan as a legitimate, credible and well-known leader representing the country. One such example is Erdogan’s ability to properly manage the crisis that followed the massive earthquake in Turkey earlier this year,” expert noted.

Another important aspect, according to Mr Bechev, is the media’s favour towards Erdogan: “The national broadcaster gave only 40 minutes of broadcast time to the opposition and 2 000 minutes to Erdogan. However, Erdogan’s success was not only due to the media, but also to his declared promises to raise salaries, pensions, and social assistance payments”.

As Mr Bechev pointed out, Erdogan’s victory in the elections on 28 May is a realistic scenario. “At the moment Erdogan is very close to the finish line. Unless the opposition regroups and wins an extra 5% of the vote. However, I think it would be very difficult for the opposition to achieve this”, said Mr Bechev.

According to the expert, if Erdogan does win the Turkish presidential elections, no major changes are expected in the country’s foreign policy. “It seems that both Moscow and Kiev have good reasons to be happy about Erdogan’s victory. Both Putin and Zelensky have personal relations with Erdogan,” Bechev stressed, “Turkey will not join the sanctions against Russia, but will continue to supply arms to Ukraine. Turkey is also likely to ratify Sweden’s accession protocols before the NATO summit”.

However, Mr Bechev does not rule out the scenario of opposition protests. “At the moment it seems calm, because there is a chance that in 2 weeks’ time things will change. If the opposition wins by a small margin and there is a recount, in that case there could be opposition protests”, Mr Bechev stated.

As noted by Mr Bechev this would be Erdogan’s last term in office and he may decide to take drastic decisions: “Erdogan may decide to do anything, even go Putin’s route and try to change the presidential term limit or rewrite the rules. This would make the regime even more authoritarian”.

A recording of the discussion is available here.