Turkey’s Erdoğan seeks electoral advantage from Syria operation

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s real motive for launching a military offensive in northeast Syria this month lies in his wish to redress the ruling party’s failures at the ballot box this year, former Turkish lawmaker and analyst Aykan Erdemir wrote for Al Arabiya on Sunday.

Ankara launched Operation Peace Spring against Kurdish-led militias it view as terrorists on Oct. 9, and the swift push forward by Turkish troops was greeted by wide approval by the Turkish public.

But the operation came after a troubling year for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), with the economic woes faced by Turkey breeding widespread discontent and helping a broad alliance of opposition parties to crucial victories in five of the country’s largest province in local elections in March.

Erdoğan has also had to content with a simmering rebellion from his own party’s ranks, as a selection of former AKP stalwarts quit the party to set up rival political movements.

The Turkish president is counting on the Syrian operation “to trigger ethnic and political fault lines that run deep not only in the country but also within the opposition” and prise apart the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) from other opposition parties that have a Turkish nationalist base, Erdemir said.

The HDP was the only party in parliament to oppose the military operation, and its politicians continue to face criminal charges for alleged links to the outlawed Kurdish militants whose affiliates the Turkish military is battling in Syria.

Meanwhile, the “rally-round-the-flag effect of this latest military campaign into Syria allowed Erdoğan to boost his nationalist credentials and stifle dissent,” Erdemir said.

This has helped the Turkish president to sidestep criticism for his government’s financial mismanagement, while the promise to resettle millions of Syrian refugees in border areas cleared of Kurdish fighters could “allow him to convert the rising anti-refugee sentiment among the Turkish electorate into votes,” he said.

Thus, despite an agreement made with the United States last to temporarily halt the military operation, Erdoğan is not likely to bring Operation Peace Spring to an end until he has secured the gains he needs at the ballot box, said the analyst.