On Sunday, August 10, for the first time, Turkish citizens will directly elect their president. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is widely expected to win -- opinion polls have put him consistently ahead of his closest rival, veteran diplomat Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu. Yet recent surveys have given Erdoğan less than 50 percent support, raising the possibility that a second round runoff will be needed to determine the winner.
Erdoğan has been an incredibly popular leader, holding power for more than a decade, and his party has won six consecutive local and national elections since 2003. But a growing camp of opposition groups accuse him of authoritarianism and polarizing Turkish society while pursuing a reckless foreign policy. Nationwide protests in 2013 raised anger and discontent among various segments of society and threatened Erdoğan's legitimacy domestically and abroad. The prime minister has also been mired in a series of corruption scandals. An election victory would therefore be a welcome boost for him.
Given the impact the elections will have on Turkish domestic and international politics, Wikistrat conducted a 48-hour crowdsourced simulation earlier this month to address two questions: Once elected, what will Erdoğan do with his victory? And how will the opposition react?
Wikistrat's analysts concluded that, once elected, an emboldened Erdoğan will first focus on consolidating his power domestically by marginalizing and eliminating his opponents. These opponents include the Kemalist and secular elements in the military, the intelligence services and the followers of Fethullah Gülen, a preacher and former ally who has turned highly critical of the prime minister.
Next, Erdoğan will focus on the economy. He understands that key to consolidating his power is economic success; plus a strong and growing economy tied to energy will create opportunities beyond the European Union (which has so far proven elusive). Therefore, the majority of analysts assessed that he will emphasize the centrality of Turkey as a major transit hub for gas and oil which could ultimately challenge Russia's monopoly over supplies to Europe.
Some of the analysts expect Erdoğan to seek the support of the Kurdish population by promising them autonomy and releasing the former guerrilla leader Abdullah Öcalan. He could also back Kurdish separatist movements in Iraq and Syria, which would allow for secure access to this region's valuable oil assets.
Altogether, Erdoğan's victory and his subsequent efforts to consolidate power are likely to polarize Turkish society further as this will be seen as proof that he is bent on undermining the secular nature of the state. The release of Öcalan and rapprochement with the Kurds could also draw criticism from nationalist factions in Turkey, including those who support the ruling AK party.
Wikistrat's analysts thus expect opposition groups to organize mass protests and anti-government rallies, which Erdogan will try to suppress using strong police tactics; he will further limit the freedom of expression and press. If the opposition fails to present a formidable challenge, Erdoğan could crush the opposition and consolidate his power. If the opposition proves strong enough, Erdoğan will have to make concessions and seek reconciliation.
Wikistrat's analysts were more divided in terms of the international implications of Erdoğan's election. Some suggested that if he manages to secure his position domestically, Erdoğan will try to restore Turkey's role as a regional leader and peacemaker. The wars in neighboring Iraq and Syria reinforces Turkey's relevance. Its connections to Islamist groups such as Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS could lead Turkey to become more involved in the conflicts in the region. Seeing Turkey's role as an opportunity to help create stability in the region, Western countries may be tempted to overlook Erdoğan's domestic problems and his authoritarian tendencies.
Other analysts warned that Erdogan's election may be perceived as a victory of conservative Islamism, causing concern in Arab and Western governments alike. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel and Egypt see Turkey's pro-Islamic and "Neo-Ottoman" policies in the region as detrimental to their national security interests and will want to check Turkish power. Iran as well as Iraq's Shia communities will also regard Turkey's Sunni-centric foreign policy as a threat to their security. Turkey's ties with Islamic groups might deepen these concerns.
Additionally, Erdogan's persecution of the opposition coupled with the suppression of freedom of speech may be interpreted in the West as Turkey moving away from the European concept of democracy. Turkish military and intelligence relations with NATO and the United States could suffer as a result of these developments and could lead to the isolation of Turkey internationally. Consequently, Turkey will no longer be seen as a regional leader, let alone a peacemaker in the region, undermining its dreams of a Neo-Ottoman sphere of influence.