Turkey’s presidential elections are upon us. President Erdogan has run the country for nearly 20 years, but his challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, hopes to shake things up. This could very well be a turning point for Turkish politics.
Once upon a time, Erdogan was well-liked in Turkey and beyond. He ran a tight ship, and his policies were solid. And then he fell into a spiral of narcissistic nationalism and everything went to s***. Needless to say, much of the country is ready for a change.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu is the top challenger but also comes with some baggage. Yes, he’s old. More importantly, he’s the head of a six-party coalition. Meaning at best, this is going to be a transitionary government. At least it’s a step in the right direction.
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Hey Everybody. Peter Zeihan here coming to you from on the road. I’m traveling and I’m sick. So you’re not going to be getting a fancy backdrop on this one? We’re just stuck with the hotel room. Anyway, this video still needs to get out on May the 12th because we’ve got big things happening in the country of Turkey, which is one of the more important, more dynamic, more flexible countries that I see for the times ahead.
It’s one of the handful of countries that security forces and economy are basically right size to its neighborhood and ambitions. And I expect it to be one of the five countries moving forward for the next couple of decades to really dominate the human condition. If you want to see more about that, there’s a massive turkey chapter in my third book, this United Nations.
But for purposes of today, I want to talk about the elections that are in play, because we’re at a turning point in Turkish politics. The incumbent is a guy by the name of Erdogan who is basically run Turkey for the last 20 years. And his first decade, you know, he ran a tight ship economically. He was very inclusive.
He sought out broad coalitions and he even did some selective purges of the military to prevent the military from purging civilian governments like the Turkish government had done in four decades. And so overall, most folks in Turkey and beyond Turkey liked him quite a bit. But then he turned into kind of a narcissistic nationalism and started alienating everyone in the country beyond the country.
Also, his economic policies were great. His policies were wildly inflationary. He he was of the weird belief that if you drop interest rates to zero, that that will be counter inflationary as opposed to spurring demand and economic activity that maybe the economy can’t support. As a result, inflation in Turkey has gotten to levels that they haven’t seen in quite some time, and cost of living has really increased.
He also used this cheap money that was flowing into the system to support his political cronies, specifically in the construction sector, which generated something that looks a lot like the subprime boom in the United States, but like an order of magnitude bigger. And that bubble started to pop about three years ago. And so his political support has hemorrhaged away since.
Cronyism, of course, is not popular anywhere. But in the short term, the real issue is that we had a couple of really bad earthquakes in Turkey a few weeks ago, and Erdogan completely botched the recovery. Countries tried to provide aid and he basically said no because he thought they were spies. And since we had this massive construction boom, we now know that Erdogan had moved away from things like safety checks and, you know, sand in concrete in the regulatory structure in order to have his buddies make more money.
And so all of these things just flattened when the quake hit. On top of that turkey is a very young country demographically, and the bulk of its population is under age 30. And for most of the voters, you know, and under age 40, they’ve never known anyone but Erdogan. And so they are willing to move on. Now, his challenger is a guy by the name of let me see if I get this right.
Kilicdaroglu. Kilicdaroglu. Apologies for Mr. Kilicdaroglu if I completely bash that, I’m just going to call him by his first name. So Kemal has been in Turkish politics about as long as Joe Biden has been alive, which gives you an idea of how viable of a candidate he is in the long run. But he is the leader of a six party coalition who decided to put all of their differences aside in order to get Erdogan out.
And what that tells me is that even if he wins the presidency and even if the opposition can carry the parliament, and even if Erdogan goes quietly, none of these are given. I mean, we’re leaning our way, but they’re not given. Even if all of that happens, all of our hopes occur for these elections. It’s a six party coalition with a guy that’s older than dirt.
It’s going to be a transitional government, even in the best case scenario. So those people who are looking at Turkey from a foreign policy point of view, who are expecting big, radical changes, you know, you temper your enthusiasm. Now, I do expect there to be a significant shift, at least in tone, because everyone has become more and more erratic as he’s become more and more dictatorial.
And he’s now seen spies under every every precaution. So, you know, the Greeks are always an issue. The Armenians are always an issue. But because he’s a strong man, he’s kind of cozied up a little bit. I mean, that’s might be overly harsh, but cozying up a little bit to Vladimir Putin, I think the United States is trying to overthrow them.
He hates the Europeans with a passion and simply injecting a little bit more realism into would be perfectly blunt mediocrity into Turkish foreign policy making. To calm everything down would really be a good idea. But the biggest policy shifts we would probably see our number one, the Turks under a new government would probably lift their opposition to Sweden, join NATO.
I don’t want to said publicly that the only reason he’s holding up the the Swedish accession to NATO’s for personal reasons so he can win the election. So even if, you know, Erdogan walks away with this election again, we’re probably going to see Sweden and pretty soon. The second is relations with the Russians versus the Americans as regards the Ukraine war.
Turkey hasn’t done anything that’s technically illegal, but Turkish companies are serving as middlemen between the rest of the world and the Russians in order to get products into Russia that the Europeans have been trying to sanction. Now, the Europeans and the Americans aren’t happy with that. But until the Europeans or the Americans get a much broader sanction program, it’s nothing that the Turks are doing that’s illegal.
But getting a little bit more understanding from Ankara on what needs to be done in order to put Russia in a box is something that Kilicdaroglu Kemal seems to be amenable to in terms of other relations, really. Israel, Egypt or the big two? Erdogan Really? Butted heads with multiple Israeli governments and it’s only recently that things have started to warm and relations with Egypt are fraught.
Turkey is a former colonial power and Egypt was one of its provinces. Hell, for a while. Israel was one of its provinces. And if there is going to be some sort of new regional order in the eastern Mediterranean or the western parts of the Middle East, Israel and Egypt and Turkey are all going to be part of it.
And there was a time in the first decade of Erdogan’s rule when it looked like the old Cold War partnership with Israel could be resurrected in a partnership with Egypt, could be forged. But then Erdogan kind of went off the rails. And so simply letting history and regional geopolitics take the course. Turkey’s the natural leader of that bloc.
And since the Israelis were having some wackadoo political issues at home and Egypt has descended into full narcissistic dictatorship, it’s actually a really good opportunity for a more open and moderate Turkish government to make some some gains in this area. And really, that doesn’t take firm foreign policy making. It doesn’t take a strong leader. That just means taking advantage of the economic and proximity issues that make Turkey the logical power in this region.
Okay, so first round is this weekend. And if nobody gets 50%, we do a runoff. And that’s the same for the parliament and for the president. The runoff will be in a couple of weeks. So we’re going to know one way or another really quick how this is going to go. And as long as, you know, Kamal lives through the election process, it looks like he’s got a pretty good shot.
All right, you all take care.