ANALYSIS-Erdogan plays diplomatic gains by keeping an eye on the elections


Band Orhan Coskun and Daren Butler

ANKARA, August 9 (Reuters)A series of diplomatic victories, capped by the agreement to resume grain exports from Ukraine, offers President Tayyip Erdogan respite from economic strife in Turkey and offers a blueprint for his campaign strategy for the EU elections. next year.

As he prepares for what promises to be the biggest electoral challenge of his nearly 20-year reign, the president is showcasing his achievements on the world stage.

“Turkey is going through its strongest period politically, militarily and diplomatically,” he told a crowd of thousands in northwestern Turkey over the weekend, a day after holding talks in Russia with President Vladimir Putin.

Progress internationally stands in contrast to a bleak domestic economy, with inflation soaring to 79% and the lira languishing near the record highs it reached during the last currency crisis in December.

Opponents blame Erdogan’s unorthodox economic policies, including a series of interest rate cuts despite high inflation and the sacking of three central bank governors since 2019, which have left the country with large current account deficits and depend on external financing to sustain the economy.

Erdogan said the fruits of the government’s economic policies – prioritizing exports, production and investment – would become clearer in the first quarter of 2023.

INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCE

In the meantime, government officials and senior officials from his ruling AK party describe the president as a statesman standing up to electoral rivals who fall far short of his international credentials.

“Whether you like him or not, Erdogan is a leader,” said a senior Turkish official, saying no other international figure had the same level of contact with the world’s top players. “There is no leader in Turkey who can replace him.”

The deal to restart Ukrainian exports, halted since the Russian invasion in February, could ease grain shortages that have left millions vulnerable to hunger and pushed up world prices.

Negotiated by the United Nations and Turkey, it came after Erdogan won NATO concessions on Nordic membership and initiated a rapprochement with rival powers in the Middle East.

Erdogan also secured a promise from US President Joe Biden in June that he would support the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, after Washington blocked Ankara from buying more advanced F-35 jets due to its purchase of Russian weapons.

ELECTORAL TEST

The longest-serving leader and most dominant political figure since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded modern Turkey nearly a century ago, Erdogan faces legislative and presidential elections due to be held by June 2023.

A survey by pollster Metropoll last week found a slight increase in support for his AK party to 33.8%, still comfortably the most for a single party. But he faces a loose alliance of opposition parties, and polls show him trailing opposition presidential candidates.

The main concerns of voters are the state of the economy and the presence of 3.6 million Syrian refugees, welcomed by Turkey at the start of the Syrian conflict but increasingly seen by Turks as competitors for jobs and Services.

“The government is using foreign policy as material to cover up the economic disaster it has dragged the country into, telling stories of ‘diplomatic victory’ at home,” said Erdogan Toprak, MP from the main opposition CHP party and senior adviser of its leader. Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Toprak said that even on the diplomatic front, Erdogan was making concessions that “damage the dignity of our country and drag it into weakness.”

RESTORING REGIONAL LINKS

Erdogan, who survived huge anti-government protests in 2013 and a coup attempt in 2016, has sought to restore strained ties with other Middle Eastern powers, partly in the hope of attract badly needed foreign funds.

The United Arab Emirates, Turkey’s rival in the civil war in Libya and in a Gulf dispute over Qatar, has joined China, Qatar and South Korea in currency swap deals with Ankara in a total value of $28 billion. Turkey is also hoping for an agreement with Saudi Arabia and has taken steps to improve relations with Egypt and Israel.

“Voters are aware of the benefits of diplomacy. Sometimes they will complain about the economy or the refugees, but they will vote for Erdogan for the pursuit of an effective Turkey,” an AKP party official said.

Key to Erdogan’s diplomacy in the Middle East and beyond is what he called his ‘common understanding, based on mutual trust and respect’ with Putin – a relationship that is causing growing concern among partners Turkey’s NATO since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Russia says it is conducting a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities.

Turkey has sought to strike a balance by criticizing the Russian invasion and supplying arms to Ukraine, while refusing to join the West in imposing sanctions on Russia – a position it says has helped his mediation efforts bear fruit.

“By obtaining the opening of the grain corridor, we have reconfirmed Turkey’s key role in solving global problems,” Erdogan said on Saturday.

(Reporting by Orhan Coskun and Daren Butler; Writing by Daren Butler and Dominic Evans; Editing by Alex Richardson)

((daren.butler@tr.com; +90-212-350 7053; Reuters Messaging: daren.butler.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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