Turkey’s Erdoğan can still mend ties with the West - Financial Times

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan still has a chance to reset relations with Turkey’s western allies following his country’s local elections, the Financial Times said in an editorial published on Wednesday.

Turks will head to the polls on March 31 for the eighth time in five years to select mayors and local administrators, but a following four-year period without elections offers Turkey a chance to change the course of its relations with the United States and Europe, which are crucial for the country’s economic recovery, the FT said. 

The Turkish president has been repeatedly using anti-Western rhetoric in his election campaigns. Over the last week, he has presented himself as the voice of the Muslim world against what he calls rising Islamophobia and xenophobia in the West, following an attack against two mosques in New Zealand. 

Erdoğan’s shift to authoritarianism has alienated its allies in the West, while the relations between Turkey vis-a-vis the United States and Europe have also soured due to conflicting interests and growing lack of trust, the FT said.

The Turkish government decision to purchase Russian made S-400 missile systems has disturbed the country’s NATO allies, while Ankara is resenting Washington’s cooperation with the Kurdish militia in Syria over the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). 

“Yet despite his misgivings, the west offers Mr Erdogan’s best chance for economic recovery,” the FT said, adding that reaching out to China, Qatar, and Russia had created lacklustre results, while Europe remained Turkey’s major trading partner.

“After March 31, Mr Erdogan will have a four-year stretch without elections. This offers time to reset foreign diplomatic and economic relations. Mr Erdogan will not become a democratic reformer, but there is a chance for him to repair his country’s relationship with the west,” the FT said. 

The newspaper said that Turkey was still a strategically vital partner for the United States and the European Union, and both Washington and Europe had been willing to overlook Turkey’s democratic slide in favour of cooperation on trade, refugees, and counter terror. 

“Mr Erdogan has the power to salvage and rebuild relations. He should show the will to pursue this approach for the sake of all parties involved,” the FT said.