The end of authoritarian rule by Recep Tayyip Erdogan won’t make Turkey an easier partner for the West, experts have warned.
Polls show that opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was likely to win tomorrow’s presidential elections in a “defining” vote to end 20 years of ‘modern quasi authoritarian“ rule by 69-year-old Erdogan.
While this will herald major domestic changes, such as improved human rights and economic and political reform, it will not make Turkey more “western leaning” as some experts hope, said Dr Ziya Meral, Senior Associate Fellow with the RUSI think tank tonight.
“If Erdogan loses, which is very likely, it will be a defining moment because it will show that, even after 20 years of modern quasi- authoritarianism, things can change; civil society can maintain resilience, and all these strong heavy-handed political tricks don’t work any more,“ he said.
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“But Kilicdaroglu is weak on foreign policy and, while people assume that he is completely pro-Nato, his coalition includes many left wing and centre right groups which are categorically anti-West.”
With hopes of EU accession now dead, another source of tension could be on migration, with Kilicdaroglu having promised to end Turkey’s policy of hosting Syrian refugees unless the EU pays for houses and infrastructure.
“Some European capitals might struggle working with Kilicdaroglu because he might well allow Syrians to take irregular channels to reach Europe unless his conditions are met. It’s a promise he must keep,” said Dr Meral.
He added: “Erdogan has been difficult, but foreign governments know how to conduct transactional diplomacy with him.
“Things will be more messy if Kilicdaroglu, who will not be a foreign policy president, wins.”