OUTLOOK 2023: Turkey

OUTLOOK 2023: Turkey
Critics say Erdogan's economic mismanagement means he has no chance of winning re-election in a fair fight. What lengths might he go to to hold on to power? / Turkish Presidency.
By Akin Nazli in Belgrade January 9, 2023

bne intellinews’ annual Outlook series of reports looks ahead to what 2023 holds for the countries in our news regions. Below is an introduction. Read the full report on Turkey here (Flipbuilder) or in PDF (see links at foot of this article).

In 2022, Turkey continued to collapse in all fields.

The year ended with an ill omen, namely bloodbaths on Istanbul’s main shopping thoroughfare, when a bomb left on a bench exploded, and in the conflict with adversaries gathered in locations around the Turkish-Syrian border.

None of this came as a surprise. bne IntelliNews’ Outlook 2022: Turkey read: “If Turkey cannot manage to somehow smoothly get rid of the [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan reign, nothing would be a surprise amid the turmoil engulfing the country. Erdogan could at any time engage in wars, fuel violence at home, create more economic dilemmas, announce he is moving against another attempt at a ‘coup’, or conspire in and engender many other things that we can scarcely imagine at the moment.”

The coming year, 2023, requires Erdogan to call presidential and parliamentary elections. They must be held by June at the latest. Thus, in store are 12 months that could bring markedly more dramatic and tragic events that will stain modern-day Turkey’s history. Prepare for a possible boom in terror and violence.

As 2022 progressed, there were some predictions that Erdogan would go for snap polls, perhaps before the end of the year. Some current rumours anticipate elections slightly earlier than in June, perhaps in April or May.

Erdogan has lately been rearranging his foreign policy in order to secure a free hand at home. The major players of the United Nations as a whole, ranging from the US to China, appear to be part of a consensus supporting a continuation of the Erdogan regime.

Court cases abroad that pose some threat to Turkey’s autocrat are advancing only very slowly (in terms of the US, for example, look up the latest on the Halkbank case, the “SBK” case, the assaults by Erdogan’s security detail on protesters in Washington and the sanctions move against Sitki Ayan).

The only exception so far to this relative foreign policy comfort for Erdogan has been Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Media reports have suggested that Assad is refusing to smooth relations in a way that would benefit Erdogan’s election campaign. Erdogan is, however, still pushing for a meeting with Assad. He would use it to portray himself as sending a great number of Turkey’s Syrian migrants back home.

The tragic grip of today’s authoritarianism held over so many Turks is, note, not only maintained thanks to inaction from foreign partners. The state of the so-called opposition within Turkey is more heart-wrenching. 

Nevertheless, in a fair contest, Erdogan would have no chance at the polls. In an unfair contest he will, of course, declare another “victory” during the early evening hours of election day while the votes are still being counted. Heads of foreign states will queue to congratulate the despot on his victory on the phone. Their congratulations will translate as: “We recognise you as the political authority in Turkey. Feel free to do what you would like to do.”

The opposition will play its role by turning tail and disappearing. It’s all been seen before, such as in the general election of 2018 and the constitutional referendum on forming an executive presidency, held in 2017. Once more, observers will watch to see whether, post-election, it is possible to keep Turkey stable.

In the most positive scenario, Erdogan would leave his post in a somehow-contrived peaceful transition. The scenario could, in a certain sense, be seen as mirroring what was seen in 2002. In such an eventuality, Turkish assets, led by the lira, would see a sharp rally. It would begin as soon as the market became convinced that Erdogan was set to peacefully hand over the reins of power.

Turkey would then fall into another “hot money” trap. The value of the lira would boom, the current account deficit would leap and domestic production would collapse. And, Turkey would become ready for the next portfolio outflow shock.

An actual recovery, which could be described as at least returning to the 2015 settings, would require, at a minimum, five years of uninterrupted healing, with programmes covering each and every corner of life.

It should be noted that, in the post-Erdogan period, any government, democratic or undemocratic, would have to politically and economically surrender to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme. And past experience with IMF programmes shows that political ructions would be in store.

Turkey still has access to borrowing on the global markets—though each instance of borrowing at the required high costs brings the country closer to the ultimate end, namely the IMF programme. A new version of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), working under an IMF programme, is the likeliest potential major political change you might see on the road ahead.

The opposition bloc, which would be in line to take over the government, would suffer from the turbulence caused by the IMF’s impositions. There would be a shake-up period and after a while a powerful government would take over to apply the IMF programme.

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu could be a good candidate for implementing an IMF programme. He is flexible and populist. Deva Party chair Ali Babacan, a former Erdogan ally who was among those who implemented the 2001 programme, anticipates a place at the top table for himself.

In the worst case, Syria and Iraq scenarios are on the cards.