The Another

    ‘Erdogan’s defeat in the Turkish presidential election is secretly hoped for in Paris, Berlin, and Washington’



    The event could have been even more impactful if both key figures of the day had been able to attend in person at Akkuyu, located in southern Turkey along the Mediterranean coast. On Thursday, April 27, Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin remotely inaugurated the first Turkish nuclear power plant, constructed with financial backing and technology from Russia. As the Kremlin leader refrained from making the trip amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, his Turkish counterpart also participated remotely due to intestinal issues that required him to briefly pause his campaign for the May 14 presidential and legislative elections.

    Nevertheless, the virtual appearance of the two autocrats in the midst of electoral debates, while the power plant’s reactors are still far from being operational, offers a glimpse into the geopolitical stakes of the election.

    “A victory for Erdogan would be a victory for Putin,” said Marc Pierini, an associate researcher at Carnegie Europe and former European Union (EU) ambassador to Ankara. Conversely, the defeat of the incumbent president to the opposition leader, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, would benefit Western interests, starting with those of the Europeans. In Brussels, Paris, Berlin, as well as in Washington, discretion is in order to avoid provoking the anger of the outgoing leader by interfering in the electoral contest.

    However, the prospect of a power shift in Ankara, once seen as illusory, is now taken seriously, even secretly desired, despite lingering doubts about the fair conduct of the election, as well as the response of the Islamist-conservative leader in the event of an electoral setback. The economic crisis, the chaotic handling of the recent earthquake in the southeast of the country, and the weariness of part of the electorate towards an increasingly authoritarian regime provide hope to the opposition coalition led by the Republican People’s Party (CHP, Kemalist) leader. “If Turkish voters manage to dislodge Erdogan from his presidential palace, it would be a major geopolitical turning point,” said former Spanish foreign affairs minister Arancha Gonzalez, dean of the Ecole des Affaires Internationales de Sciences Po in Paris.

    While he does not intend to sacrifice economic ties with Russia or abandon the Akkuyu power plant, Kiliçdaroglu claims to be interested in “normalizing” relations with his Western partners. This promise might seem self-evident for any leader of a NATO member country and EU candidate involved in arduous accession negotiations – which have been suspended since 2018. However, it’s far from a given after Erdogan’s two-decade reign, as he has put relations with his Western counterparts to the test, going as far as to label former German chancellor Angela Merkel a “Nazi” and questioning Emmanuel Macron’s “mental health.”

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