Iran’s view on the Turkish elections: Erdogan or Kilicdaroglu?

Iran’s view on the Turkish elections: Erdogan or Kilicdaroglu?

As Türkiye’s election season gains momentum and the primary presidential candidates emerge, Iran – one of Türkiye’s most important neighbors and regional competitors – is closely following this pivotal political event. Iranians from all walks of life, including politicians and policymakers, have been pondering two key questions for weeks: Who will emerge victorious in the forthcoming elections, and which of the primary candidates – Erdogan or Kilicdaroglu – will be better suited for Iran?

As per analysis and reports published in Turkish media, there is no unanimous perspective on the matter. Nonetheless, different groups and political parties hold contrasting views and inclinations towards the two primary contenders in the election, influenced by different assumptions regarding the possible victor. Despite these differences, many of them believe that one of the winners could be beneficial for Iran.

It is noteworthy how Iranians have reacted to the Turkish election’s outcome, given that it has eclipsed the ten-year-long hostile rivalry between two regional powers over Syria and some other issues in the Middle East. The media discourse prevalent in Iran regarding the Turkish election atmosphere is still critical of Erdogan, even though it does not necessarily endorse Kılıçdarağlu. Several Iranian media outlets continue to highlight Erdoganism and the competition between Ankara and Tehran. Moreover, their concerns extend beyond the outcome of the Turkish election itself. Instead, they are preoccupied with the implications of the post-election period for the rivalry between the two countries and the decline or rise of Turkish power.

Strong or weak Türkiye

Those who oppose Erdogan’s victory in the elections argue that it would bolster Ankara’s militant stance in the region and intensify Türkiye’s rivalry with Iran, which is undoubtedly detrimental to Tehran. This group of analysts defines “Erdoğanism” as an aggressive approach towards regional countries, whereby Türkiye seeks to prioritize its interests over the collective interests of the region’s other countries. By endorsing Kilicdaroglu’s victory, they anticipate that political conflicts within Türkiye would intensify, leading to the country’s weakened foreign policy.

On the other hand, some Iranian media argue that Türkiye’s regional power decline may not necessarily presents an opportunity for Iran. Instead, it could increase the US influence in the region. According to this group of analysts, while the rivalry between Iran and Türkiye in the region over the last decade is undeniable, it’s important to consider that in every instance where the region has suffered significant damage, Türkiye has been operating within the framework of NATO and the Western alliance. Türkiye’s involvement in the Syrian conflict resulted from following Western-led initiatives, and since the idea of prioritizing regional interests over Western alignment gained traction in Ankara, Türkiye has been moving closer to the East and the region.

Türkiye’s recent moves, such as closing ties with Russia and China, cooperating with regional powers including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Syria, and strengthening relations with Iran and other players in regions such as Syria, the Caucasus (as seen in Erdogan’s 3+3 plan), and the Balkans (as shown in Ankara’s support for Iran’s diplomatic presence in Albania), all demonstrated Ankara’s focus on regional interests. This group argues that instead of dwelling on the past 10 years of bitter competition, it would be better for Iran to support Erdogan’s victory in the elections, considering that they are already familiar with his ideology and mindset.

Western approach, the main weakness of Kılıçdaroğlu

A number of Iranian media outlets see Kılıçdaroğlu’s Iranian ancestry and Alevi religious affiliation as potential factors that could improve relations between Türkiye and Iran. Another group of Iranian experts, however, contends that Kılıçdaroğlu’s political approach, as well as the alliance of six political parties he leads, prioritizes westernization and is inherently incompatible with Iran’s national and regional interests. These experts point to the Nation Alliance’s pro-Western foreign policy stance and its repeated emphasis on improving Türkiye’s relationship with the West while still engaging with countries like Russia, China, and Iran. If we examine the Alliance members’ discussions on foreign policy in detail, we can see that they are keen to emphasize their commitment to making independent decisions. For instance, they have made it clear that they will not repeat past approaches when it comes to interacting with Russia. Given the complexities of Tehran’s connection with the West, Ankara’s relationship with Iran is unlikely to remain as favorable as it has been in recent years, especially if Türkiye maintains close ties with the US and the West. Nonetheless, despite potential obstacles in regional issues brought by Erdogan’s Türkiye, his reelection could assist safeguard Iran’s national interests in bilateral relations.

Prediction of election results

The state of polls released in Türkiye over the past two weeks, and undoubtedly until Election Day, received a lot of attention in Iran dailies, news outlets, and analytical websites. Daily surveys in Türkiye have an Iranian counterpart, and news websites frequently discuss the dangers of Erdogan’s influence and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s leadership to attract readers. Concerning Erdogan’s illness, the Iranian media has been paying close attention and attempting to examine various scenarios in the event that he was to leave the scene. However, when we listen to what experts have to say about Erdogan’s potential victory or defeat, we can see that Iranian experts are more circumspect and professional than news websites. According to these experts, the society’s undecided voters and those who are turned off by the Justice and Development Party due to issues such as the country’s poor economic management and financial corruption will significantly influence the election results. This fact has led Iranian experts to conclude that predicting the election’s final outcome is impossible due to unforeseen circumstances that could change this group of people’s opinions.

Anti-immigration policies of Kılıçdaroğlu

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s anti-immigrant remarks and promise to prohibit the sale of real estate to foreigners have piqued the curiosity of the Iranian community in the past week. Iranians have reacted to this news as one of the three main groups of foreign buyers of houses and properties in Türkiye, and a significant portion of Iranian news websites have warned about the future of investment in the Turkish real estate market by broadcasting the news.

Masoud Sadrmohammadi
Journalist and Researcher in Middle East studies, Former editor of “Eurasia and Turkey” in Tasnimnews, P.h.D candidate in Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey.

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April 2024