2024 Predictions

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aka “Turkey precap”

Hello! And welcome to “20-2024 hours to gooooo” the year that comes with its own theme song and motto. Though not all of us want to be sedated.

Some people want to be accelerated, in which case Adana is already welcoming 2025 and ready to host you.

Others want to be updated, and that’s why we’re here, back in your inboxes with our annual “Turkey precap”, this time featuring predictions from 21 Turkey experts on everything from regional wars to local elections and more. Happy new year to all!

The north star for 2024 in Turkey: İstanbul elections. © Diego Cupolo

On Elections

Sinem Adar, an associate at the Center for Applied Turkey Studies in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs

The football crisis that marked the end of 2023 exemplifies what lies ahead in 2024: economic exigencies, culture wars, scapegoatism, and political suppression.

After victories in Turkey’s twin elections in May 2023, Turkey’s ruling elites will be determined to win back the major metropolitan municipalities. This is important to maintain the legitimacy of the ruling party. It is also essential to consolidate gains under the presidential system until the next planned parliamentary and presidential elections in 2028.

For the opposition parties, their fragmentation after the May elections and hostilities between them constitute serious challenges. Should the opposition hold onto the biggest metropolitan municipalities, this will undoubtedly boost the morale of the electorate. Still, the sliding of the Turkish political landscape to the far right has already passed a critical threshold and is difficult to reverse in the near future.

A crisis of some sort will remain integral to Turkish politics in 2024. The durability of Turkey’s crisis-ridden state will also be influenced by the outcome of elections in Europe in June and in the US in November.

Özer Sencar, director of the MetroPoll polling company

There are many factors that may affect the results of the March 2024 local elections. The first of these is the possible change in the voting potential of the parties. There does not appear to be a notable change in AKP, CHP, MHP and DEM Party votes. A significant decrease in the İYİ Party would not be a surprise.

The second and most impactful factor is whether DEM and İYİ enter the elections with their own candidates. We do not know how determined these two parties, especially DEM, will be on this issue. If they run a serious campaign with effective candidates, it may cause CHP to lose a significant number of municipalities and AKP will benefit. DEM and MHP maintain their power. İYİ Party suffers the biggest loss.

The most important result of the March vote will be the İstanbul election because, I think, it will determine the political scene in a way that will resonate for a quarter century.

If İmamoğlu wins, he will most likely win the presidential election in 2028 and the president of the next 20 years will emerge. If İmamoğlu loses, Erdoğan will probably remain president until the end of his life and many political actors will withdraw from the political scene.

Seda Demiralp, professor and chair of the International Relations department at Işık University in İstanbul

An important consequence of the 2023 elections has been the normalization of AKP policies.

Since the 2023 victory, Erdoğan has been following a return to economic orthodoxy, he signaled a return to Turkey’s traditional Western-friendly foreign policy (although the Israel-Hamas war has been jeopardizing this turn), and he also started an anti-mafia operation on interior affairs.

These points were among the opposition’s main promises during their 2023 campaign, and their adoption by the AKP signals the ruling party intends to make the most out of the post-election dissolution of the opposition.

In other words, AKP has been signaling to opposition voters that all is not bad and that there is no need for opposition parties anyway because the AKP government is already doing what the opposition would have been doing if they had won.

I expect the AKP to continue with its post-election normalization policies because they are likely to contribute to opposition voters’ political disengagement.

Berk Esen, an assoc. prof. of Political Science, Sabancı University in İstanbul

Following the İYİ Party’s decision to field its own candidates, it seems that there won’t be the broad opposition grassroots alliance we saw last time in the 2024 local elections.

Suppose the CHP candidates succeed in İstanbul and Ankara with the help of a de-facto alliance among opposition voters. In that case, the alliance balance will change in favor of the CHP, and a discussion will begin within the İYİ Party that may lead to a change of leadership.

However, if the opposition loses the elections, then the CHP will most likely have another inner-party congress. In this case, the government will perhaps further strengthen the steps it has already taken to consolidate the regime for a long time, and perhaps a point will be reached where the authoritarian regime cannot be reversed even if an opposition alliance is established.

The ideologically dominant voters of the İYİ and DEM Party will support their parties, but if we consider that the “candidates who will win” in the opposition will mostly come from CHP – and when we add polarization in the country to this – a grassroots alliance will most likely take place in metropolitan cities.

Roj Girasun, director of Rawest Research

Previously, CHP candidates received more votes in local elections than their party got in the general elections in İstanbul. In the last elections, Erdoğan was 4 points behind Kılıçdaroğlu [in İstanbul], but this year we are not heading to the polls with the same equation of the 2019 elections in İstanbul.

There is a weaker AKP that has lost a lot of votes and a CHP that leads the local alliance – with a voter bloc that has further closed the ranks against the current government composition.

In İstanbul, we have 53 percent against the AKP and 47 percent supporting the AKP. Opposition parties’ candidates and their campaigning approaches will determine how İmamoğlu will get votes from this 53 percent.

While there is so much uncertainty, it is possible to say that İmamoğlu could take İstanbul even without the support of the DEM and İYİ Party. When we look at the numbers, the lack of votes from DEM and İYİ definitely causes them to lose [when running their own candidates], but the balance and equation in local elections are different.

When we look at the numbers, the lack of votes from DEM and İYİ definitely causes İmamoğlu to lose [when running their own candidates], but the balances and equations in local elections are different.

If the DEM Party nominates a “rabbit candidate” [a weak candidate that acts as a front for other candidates], its voters may go for CHP at a significant rate. In addition, CHP’s attitude will also have an impact. For example, jailed former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş’ father passed away, and he could not attend the funeral, and İmamoğlu hesitated to publish a condolence message. People talk about this.

Everyone knows that İmamoğlu won the last elections thanks to Kurds. A person who hesitates to make a statement about such a situation and often made public appearances with the İYİ Party in the last elections will have weaker arguments to draw votes from Kurds.

Selim Koru, a Turkey analyst and author of the Kültürkampf newsletter

The candidates of the Erdoğan palace are set to do very well in the elections, taking back many of the major cities they lost in 2019. Overall, the country is starting to see Erdoğan as a less divisive figure. If he is able to pull İYİ Party towards him, win the municipal elections, play it cool in foreign policy, and have reasonable success with his economic orthodoxy, he will have the loyalty and support of a stable, perhaps even slightly growing majority.

On foreign policy, I think we’ll see more of the gentle approach that’s been present since the elections. Ankara’s overarching goal is to revise the international treaties that determine its place in the world. They seem to believe that this would be easier to do if Donald Trump gets elected for a second term. That makes sense.

The Washington status quo instinctively wants to stop geopolitical revisionism, be it from adversaries like Russia or nominal allies like Turkey. Not only does Trump lack that instinct, he relishes fighting it in Washington and elsewhere. That’s why it would make sense for Erdoğan to keep his powder dry until Nov. 5. The nature of his task will change considerably depending on who’s in the White House in 2025.

Soner Çağaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy

While the opposition will keep two of Turkey’s three large cities in the March local elections, Erdoğan’s candidate will likely win İstanbul and this will be a really significant win for Erdoğan. It’s the last contest he has to succeed in before becoming Turkey’s permanent president.

Importantly, Erdoğan will be winning the city where he started his national career before rising as prime minister and then president, while also putting his hands back on Turkey’s financial machine and capital. So for economic and personal as well as politically symbolic reasons, Erdoğan has to take İstanbul and, I think, he’ll do everything to get it back.

On the foreign policy front, Turkey will comfortably settle in its new role – simultaneously – as a middle-power and NATO member, which successfully plays US, Russia, and others against each other. Ankara will continue to punch above its weight and Sweden will join NATO.

On Israel/Palestine

Louis Fishman, an assoc. prof. at Brooklyn College who writes on Turkish and Israeli/Palestinian affairs

Much has been lost since Oct. 7th. If at first Erdoğan sent signals that he would take a middle road, following Israel’s destructive reprisal and its mass indiscriminate killing, he has since shown his support for Hamas and his sheer disdain for Israel. Meanwhile, the Turkish government has allowed antisemitism to run rampant while also not providing a path forward to end the war.

Had Turkey insisted on a more active role in facilitating a hostage release or a constructive path to provide humanitarian aid, it could have been in a much different place. For now, Erdoğan has placed a lot of emphasis on Netanyahu, as if he is the source of the military campaign. There is no doubt that Netanyahu’s political career will most likely not survive 2024 and, regardless of which government comes next, it is hard to imagine that Israel will place much trust in Turkey.

In short, Turkey, at least for now, has lost out on becoming a key player. It only confirmed Washington’s cautious policy towards Turkey; it has left Saudi Arabia and UAE on edge with Erdoğan’s open support for Hamas while leaving Qatar to do the work. Thus, it seems Turkey will not come out ahead on this but rather has once again confirmed its role as an outsider, which does not fare well for the future.

For now, in terms of its relations with Israel, it seems more difficult days lay ahead. Thus, Ankara will also lose out on the Palestinian front as well.

Sure, Erdoğan and Turkey might gain popularity among groups within the Middle East, but this will neither help fortify long-term goals for energy security nor mark Turkey as a moderate country working for a new order in which it, too, would benefit from the United State’s attempts to broker a post-war alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel. While this might seem to some as an unlikely scenario in today’s reality, it is still on the table, though postponed for the time being.

Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and who specializes in Turkish foreign policy

2024 was supposed to be a festive year in Turkey-Israel relations as it will mark 75 years since Turkey became the first Muslim-majority state to recognize the state of Israel. Obviously, the war in Gaza will overshadow what should have been a celebratory event in March, and it is highly probable that the ambassadors, who were recalled for consultations early in the war, will not be back in Ankara and Tel Aviv by then.

The Israel-Turkey bilateral trade volume, which had already begun to decrease before the war, is likely to decline further due to the prevailing popular demand in both countries to reduce trade. However, given Turkey and Israel’s existing free trade agreement, geographical proximity, and complementary economies, there remains significant momentum in both states to maintain high trade levels.

Turkey will persist in expressing strong criticism of Israel and will actively engage in international forums to condemn its actions. While the conflict in Gaza will continue to be a prominent issue in Turkey’s public agenda, as time goes by there will be a growing weariness in discussing the ongoing conflict.

Moreover, there are no indications that Israel is inclined towards Turkish mediation in the conflict, largely due to significant mistrust towards Ankara. Additionally, Turkey seems to lack sufficient leverage over Hamas to exert substantial pressure.

On Syria and refugees

Alexander McKeever, a researcher and author of the This Week in Northern Syria newsletter 

Following the 2016 coup attempt, Turkey’s Syria policy has taken the form of direct military intervention aimed at (1) freezing the regime-opposition front lines to prevent a further influx of refugees, and (2) slowly destroying the political project of the local PKK-aligned PYD and its affiliated SDF militia.

While the latter has consisted of military offensives in the past, US and Russian opposition has curtailed additional operations since 2019. Since then, Turkey has transitioned to attacking the SDF from above: targeting military commanders, PKK cadres, and civilian activists in drone strikes while pulverizing key oil and gas facilities that keep the struggling local economy afloat.

Barring currently unforeseen events, this policy is unlikely to change in 2024. Erdoğan’s domestic position remains strong: the political opposition is fractured following the 2023 elections, the military castrated, the PKK insurgency relegated to Iraqi Kurdistan. The Russian attempt at Syrian-Turkish reconciliation remains in a stalemate in part due to the likely possibility a Turkish military withdrawal would kickstart another refugee outflow.

And while the Biden-led US and Russia remain unlikely to green light future Turkish offensives, the current status quo of degrading the SDF’s military and economic capacity through drone strikes remains comfortable for Erdoğan.

M. Murat Erdoğan, director of Mülkiye Migration Research Center of Ankara University, Faculty of Political Science

2023 was the year when the refugee issue in Turkey turned into a populist politicization. This situation dominated the policies of both the government and the opposition. Syrians in Turkey have now become an integral part of Turkish politics. It will not be surprising if Syrians and other refugees are among the important topics in the March 2024 local elections.

I think that the government will prioritize voluntary repatriation and the fight against irregular migration in 2024, and that integration efforts will be shared less with the public. Thus, efforts will be made to reduce the reactions [negative sentiments] in society. Border security will be strengthened, but I do not expect a different policy than the current one regarding the repatriation of Syrians.

Refugees will again be the most important issue in relations with the EU, and the EU will try to manage the process with a little more financial support. However, the possibility of a new refugee crisis originating from Syria and, especially Idlib, seems quite strong.

Cavidan Soykan, a migration researcher and honorary fellow at the School of Political, Social and Global Studies of Keele University in England

The Migration Presidency is planning to reduce the number of refugees in the country through its so-called fight against irregular migration. This year, a policy based on returns will continue. It’s worth noting the word “repatriation” has been replaced by “return”.

That said, returns from Turkey are neither safe nor voluntary. People in need of protection, particularly Afghans and Syrians, face the threat of prolonged detention without due process in return centers. In 2023, these newly-built centers doubled in capacity because the Turkish asylum system created further informal barriers to asylum for people in need of protection.

The aim is to keep people unregistered and make them irregular so they can be detained under inhumane conditions until they give up [hope of staying in Turkey]. Refugees are forced to sign voluntary return papers. I do not expect any change in this policy because of the unrelated correlations being made between high inflation rates, the economic slump and the number of refugees in Turkey.

On Russia/Ukraine

Evren Balta, professor of Political Science at Özyeğin University in İstanbul

The backdrop of the Ukraine war continued to shape Turkish-Russian relations throughout 2023. The unfolding developments in the conflict are poised to significantly influence the trajectory of Turkish-Russian ties in 2024.

Despite the ongoing war, trade relations between Turkey and Russia progressed in 2023. However, the deepening economic cooperation attracted criticism, particularly concerning Turkey’s perceived role in violating sanctions. In the upcoming year, if sanctions persist, Turkey’s involvement in breaching them is likely to face heightened scrutiny.

Russia maintained its pivotal position as a major supplier of oil and natural gas to Turkey throughout 2023, and this steady flow is anticipated to continue unabated in 2024. The activation of the first reactor at the Akkuyu nuclear power plant in 2024 is poised to further solidify the energy partnership between the two nations.

Since the onset of the Ukraine war, Turkey has been actively engaged as a mediator and expresses its commitment to maintaining this role. However, Russia’s withdrawal from the grain deal in 2023 made the sustainability of this role more difficult. Ukraine has also devised an alternative plan for transporting grain from Ukraine, making the renewal of this treaty challenging.

Yet, depending on the evolving dynamics of the war, new opportunities may arise for Turkey to assume different roles as a mediator.

Yörük Işık, a geopolitical analyst based in İstanbul, where he runs the Bosphorus Observer

Russia will remain the world’s most sanctioned country, and it will exhaust all its resources in 2024 for domestic production, if it hasn’t already. For small items, Turkish-Russian trade relations will keep booming, not only with the usual food and vegetables, but also eggs, chicken and dairy and that will be welcome for Turkish producers.

At the same time, on bigger items and electronics, Turkish-Russian trade will come under even more scrutiny. It’s hard to predict how relations will develop, but they can be impacted by a compensation mechanism from the EU, or some other transactional relation from the US. Turkish-Russian relations will either cool down or increase further depending on EU-US actions.

Meanwhile, the competition areas between Turkey and Russia will remain as tense as ever. With Russians possibly building a base in Ochamchire in occupied Georgia, occupied Abkhazia, or even if they cannot complete a base … Russia is moving more forces to the eastern Black Sea due to pressure from Ukraine. This will send a message to Ankara that Russia is not ready to hand the Caucasus to Turkey. Though the stars are lining up for Turkey in the Caucasus as Russia suffers in Ukraine.

If Ukraine can cut the supply lines to Crimea, and further deplete the Russian navy in the Black Sea, Turkey will face the reality and the question that Black Sea dynamics are changing. This is not just an issue for 2024 but for the years to come.

Kerim Has, a Moscow-based political analyst on Russian and Eurasian affairs

It’s hard to imagine that the Russia-Ukraine war will end in 2024. The Kremlin would likely prefer to see the outcome of the US presidential election before making any moves to secure a better agreement for itself.

Turkey under Erdoğan will most likely continue the same policy since Feb. 24, 2022, balancing between the West and Moscow, focusing more on economic advantages of the war and geopolitical benefits in the South Caucasus, Central Asia and Syria, etc.

Regarding Sweden’s NATO membership, I think sooner rather than later, the Turkish Parliament will approve the bid and the US-Turkey stalemate on the F-16 issue may be overcome. I don’t think that Turkey’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership can worsen relations with Russia. For Moscow, Turkey and its leadership under Erdoğan are still allies devoted to NATO principles.

On the Quake zone

Gönül Tol, founding director of the Turkey program at the DC-based Middle East Institute

In 2024, the millions affected by the February 2023 earthquake will continue to suffer. More than 3 million people were displaced, and hundreds of thousands of them are still living in container camps. Erdoğan failed to deliver on his promise to rebuild the devastated cities in a year. While reconstruction was speedy until May elections last year, it has slowed since then.

Soaring rebuilding costs, coupled with the country’s economic problems and dramatic increases in rental prices are likely to further complicate life for the victims in 2024. Yet the ruling AKP might still fare better than the opposition in these cities in municipal elections.

Hatay, one such city currently run by an opposition mayor, came under heavy criticism for the mayor’s handling of the aftermath of the earthquake. Dimming his prospects is the wide-held belief among the city’s residents that without an AKP victory, the city will not get much-needed investment for reconstruction.

Pelin Pinar Giritlioğlu, head of the TMMOB Chamber of City Planners İstanbul

Earthquake survivors who lost their homes in the previous İzmir and Elazığ earthquakes in 2020 have not yet been able to find stable housing.

As the influence of the Feb. 6 earthquakes on society begins to fade, the government has once again focused earthquake preparation on İstanbul. However, promises for İstanbul have not been fulfilled either. There is no clarity regarding the location of the reserve areas nor the financial models. For all we know, reserve areas can be both in and around forest areas, which implies the further destruction of nature.

As for the earthquake zone, no policies have been made public that would indicate a possibility of recovery in the near future. A clear strategy is needed to discuss the reconstruction of the Antakya old town and the new areas of settlement.

The voices of experts who work on the subject have not been heard either. Multidisciplinary studies should have been done with professional chambers and academia, but this has not been the case. All of these points do not give us much hope about the intentions towards the earthquake zone.

Tuğçe Tezer, assist. prof. at the Urban and Regional Planning Department at Mimar Sinan University in İstanbul

In 2024, we will see the tension between different priorities in Antakya, the city that suffered the worst destruction in Feb. 6 and Feb. 20 earthquakes. Since the earthquakes, nothing has been fixed here. There is still not enough temporary shelter, education and health facilities are inadequate, social rehabilitation and gathering spaces are insufficient, and the city is more insecure than ever.

At least seven times in its history Antakya was completely destroyed and it was reborn on the same lands.

In 2024, tensions will continue throughout the year between those who see Antakya as a “tourism city” or an economic gain and those whose “home”, hometown, family and past are Antakya; between those who do not know the history and culture of Antakya and those who are the history and culture themselves; between those who deepen the destruction of the earthquake and those who are most severely affected; between those who harm and destroy human health, natural sites and cultural heritage and those who try to protect them.

But this year, the dark clouds of 2023 will be lifted with hope and solidarity. And in the end, even if they look, at the moment, wounded, feeble and exhausted, the people of Antakya who rebuilt their town after each and every destruction throughout history, the “good” will prevail.

On EU-Turkey relations

Çiğdem Nas, assist. prof. of International Relations and a Lecturer at Yıldız Technical University in İstanbul 

Based on the results of the local elections, the Turkish government may proceed with a new constitutional process which may cause controversy in the society. So, the EU may want to wait on decisions until the post-election landscape in Turkey becomes clearer.

On the EU side, in addition to the European Parliament elections, the heads of major institutions such as the European Commission and European Council will be elected. This period of transition may also stall Turkey-EU relations. The European Council postponed the debate on the recommendations of the Borrell-Varhelyi report on Turkey-EU relations to a later European Council meeting. The leaders may choose to postpone this debate until the June summit.

Hungary’s term presidency in the second half of the year may provide some opportunity for a new impetus in the relations. Some of the recommendations of the report, such as more engagement in foreign and security policy, visa facilitation, high-level dialogues in energy, economics and political relations may be put into effect.

The most important step that could provide for a revitalization in the relations would be the start of customs union modernization talks, which would be impacted by the Cyprus question, ongoing trade irritants and sanctions against Russia. It would be a nice surprise from the perspective of Turkey-EU relations if EU member states could take the decision to start the customs union modernization process aligning Turkey more with the twin priorities of the EU, i.e. the green and digital transition.

On the Economy

Mike Harris, founder of Cribstone Strategic Macro

In 2023, there was much questioning of Erdoğan’s willingness to stick with the CB’s rate hiking strategy. Those fears were misplaced. Voters respond much more to populist wage policies and the stability of the Turkish Lira, than they do to interest rates.

Importantly, with a minimum wage equal to more than 80 percent of the average wage, Erdoğan has a fairly unique ability to significantly influence national wages by decree. The 49 percent rise in the minimum wage in January 2024, which is circa 15 percentage points higher than inflation realized since the last 34 percent hike in July, now brings the cumulative hike in the minimum wage to 99.7 percent since the election.

While monetary tightening has been significant and market mood music has improved, Erdoğan has retained his ability to implement short-term economic stimulus.

I believe the minimum wage is now a much more important driver of inflation than the currency. Though with four years until the next major elections, expect minimum wages will not be hiked further in 2024. While that will be great for dis-inflation and local currency fixed income, it will be recessionary.

Prior to the March vote, the government is likely to do everything in its power, including further rate hikes, to make sure that local depositors and investors are compensated to stay in Turkish Lira. They may try just one hike in the policy rate to 45 percent in January, but if that’s not enough to constrain currency weakness, then expect more.

Expect the latter quarters of 2024 to see disappointing private investment and job creation. In time, an under-performing economy may lead to tension between Erdoğan, markets and his economic team.

Atilla Yeşilada, economist, Turkey country analyst at GlobalSource Partners and co-founder of İstanbul Analytics

The Mehmet Şimsek-led stabilization program will make progress as the year advances. Alas, that ”progress” will benefit the wealthy and foreign investors, rather than the average Ayşa on the street. Even worse, for the stabilization program to gain speed and reach its final destination, Turkey may have to permanently dispense with the last vestiges of democracy.

As for the March elections, if AKP candidates take the big cities, it might actually present a good “case scenario” for the economy. With no opposition to snap at his heels, Erdoğan is likely to grant Şimsek and CBRT Gov. Hafize Gaye Erkan full authority to steer the economy right.

This means interest rates remain higher for longer, smaller wage and pension hikes for the working class and even a very strict budgetary diet to whittle away at the deficits, which are rapidly becoming structural.

If the opposition keeps the large cities, Erdoğan may scapegoat Şimsek and Erkan, sacking them and returning to unorthodox economic policies, particularly if he is serious about amending the constitution. Another year of pork-barreling and low interest rates will likely trigger triple-digit inflation and a balance of payments crisis.

 turkeyrecap.substack.com

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