An Election to Determine Türkiye’s Identity and Future

May 4, 2023

On May 14, Türkiye will hold what can only be defined as “the last exit to democracy” presidential and parliamentary elections. The AKP has been in power for two decades. Its early years in power inspired cautious optimism. Its last decade in terms of foreign and security policy, domestic politics, independence of the judiciary, the economy, and Türkiye’s internal peace and unity has been a disaster. In brief, the people of Türkiye will give marks to the AKP government, and the people of the world will give marks to the people of Türkiye.

Here are a few questions with simple answers about the past decade:

What if Türkiye under AKP rule had,

  • remained on the democratic path, thus a valuable partner for the West,
  • continued to be a source of inspiration for the Middle East with its democracy,
  • not become Muslim Brotherhood’s open supporter harming relations with Arab countries and Israel,
  • not allowed the “Mavi Marmara” to deal a setback to Turkish-Israeli relations,
  • continued with its facilitator role between Israel and Syria,
  • not made the mistake of seizing the Arab Spring as an opportunity for neo-Ottoman illusions,
  • kept its distance from inter-Arab feuds,
  • not become Egypt’s principal adversary after the ouster of President Morsi,
  • had not taken the lead in the failed regime change project in Syria,
  • not created a huge refugee problem for Türkiye,
  • not created huge national security problems,
  • not shot down a Russian military plane damaging relations with Moscow having to pay a price,
  • not raised questions regarding its commitment to NATO where our country is an equal member,
  • kept the EU accession process on track regardless of the outcome,
  • prioritized diplomacy over confrontation, cool-headedness over bravado, soft power over hard power, and
  • remained on the right economic path and waged a war against corruption?

Türkiye would have,

  • reinforced its status as a major partner for the West but also remained able, as always, to take independent decisions dictated by national interests,
  • maintained good relations with Russia,
  • become the northern star of the broad Middle East with its democracy,
  • remained a secure and peaceful country,
  • avoided polarization,
  • taken its economic development to higher levels,
  • reinforced its soft power, and
  • opened new avenues for Turkish diplomacy.

Was that “mission impossible”? Hardly, because most of that was already there or within reach. In other words, the “mission impossible” was accomplishing the opposite and the AKP government did just that.

Thus, on May 14,

  • The choices for Turkish democracy would be, “to be” or “not to be”.
  • The choices for the Turkish economy would be a “free fall” or “restoration”.
  • The choices for our internal peace would be “further polarization” or “unity”.
  • The choices for our foreign and security policy would be “reason and national interest” or “bravado and ideology”, and
  • The choices for our future lives would be endless preaching about noble religious principles but allowing graft or a country with a progressist agenda, transparency, and accountability.

Pablo Neruda once said, “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”

Let’s hope so…


About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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