As Turkey heads for elections on June 24, foreign policy issues have consistently shaped candidates' and parties' election campaigns. We weigh the manifesto pledges on issues such as terrorism, Syria, Turkey's EU bid and Jerusalem.
June 24 will mark the first time Turkey will hold both presidential and parliamentary elections on the same day. Ahead of one of the most pivotal elections in modern Turkish history, all presidential candidates revealed their roadmaps to outline a vision for the country's post-election future. While domestic issues loom large in voters' minds, foreign policy and security issues have also become the focus of the candidates.
There are 10 political parties running in the parliamentary elections: the governing AK Party in an alliance with the MHP and BBP; the main opposition CHP in an alliance with Iyi Party, SP and DP; and the parties without an alliance are HDP, Vatan Party and HUDA PAR.
Six presidential candidates are running from different parties. Incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the candidate for the AK Party, MHP, HUDA PAR the BBP. Muharrem Ince for the CHP, Meral Aksener for Iyi Party and the DP, and Temel Karamollaoglu for the SP.
HDP is contesting its former co-chair Selahattin Demirtas as its presidential candidate, while the Vatan Party is backing its leader Dogu Perincek.
Despite the alliances, each political party and presidential candidate has their own manifestos for the elections.
Following are the foreign policy promises by the contestants.
Syrian war and national security
The fight against terrorism in the neighbouring countries Syria and Iraq, and the civil war in Syria remain a priority for almost all the candidates.
The governing Justice and Development (AK) Party’s presidential candidate and incumbent President Erdogan has promised to clear Turkey’s border from terrorists as he unveiled his party's manifesto.
His party's manifesto is mostly a reflection of recent government policies, as the AK Party has been governing the country since 2002.
They have supported the opposition in Syria who have been fighting against the Assad regime since the beginning of the country's civil war in 2011.
After Ankara carried out two military operations, Euphrates Shield (2016-2017) and Olive Branch (2018), in the Syria-Turkish border region against PKK/YPG and Daesh terrorists, Erdogan said Turkey’s operations along its southern border would continue “until not a single terrorist is left.”
“We will not give up on constricting terrorist organisations. In the new period, Turkey will add new ones [operations] to the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations in order to clear its borders.”
He also said, "Turkey will continue to develop its defence industry to become a global power.”
The military operations followed a spate of attacks in Turkey that claimed scores of lives and were separately claimed by both the terrorist organisations. There has been a significant decrease in the violence after the launch of the operations.
The presidential nominee of Turkey's main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), former high school physics teacher Muharrem Ince, said in his election manifesto, titled “Future Declaration,” that Turkey’s fight against Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO), PKK/YPG terrorists and also Daesh would "continue without hesitation."
CHP was accused by critics of not fighting FETO enough. The group and its US-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated the coup attempt of July 15, 2016, which left at least 250 people dead and nearly 2,200 injured.
Ankara also accuses FETO of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary.
In his manifesto, Ince made clear his Syrian policy, expressing his support for the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“Although we have 4 million Syrians living in Turkey, we do not have an embassy in Syria, it is not acceptable,” he said.
“We will demand an election under supervision of the UN with the participation of all Syrians who live inside and outside of the country, and we will also support the establishment of a new constitution.”
“When all are done, Syrians will willingly go back to their country,” he added.
Since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, nearly 4 million refugees have come to Turkey for shelter.
Former interior minister and nationalist-leaning Iyi (Good) Party’s presidential candidate, Meral Aksener, though sees terror as the biggest obstacle to the development of foreign policy.
Aksener said “being a state” means “producing policy over making people live, not die."
"If you act like a state, there will not be Afrin," she said adding that "there will not be a flow of migrants."
She also set a goal to have a "fast-breaking meal with migrants in Syria in 2019."
"A strong Iraq and a strong Syria mean a strong Turkey. Development of the countries in the region is a benefit to Turkey,” she added.
Apart from the other candidates, the Felicity Party’s nominee Temel Karamollaoglu did not explicitly mention Syria in his manifesto.
The Peoples' Democratic Party’s (HDP) candidate Selahattin Demirtas also touched upon the Syrian war in his manifesto, making a commitment to put in an effort to end the war in the country and also uncover a democratic solution based on the brotherhood and equality of its own people.
Demirtas is in jail, arrested for alleged links with the PKK terror group.
The Patriotic Party’s candidate, Dogu Perincek, who is known for his close ties with Russia, has also expressed his willingness to end terrorism and to have a formal relationship with the Syrian regime.
"Military operations to clean up terrorist organisations supported by the US and Israel in Syria and northern Iraq will end up with a victory," he vowed, "in cooperation with Syria, Iraq and Iran, we will clear PKK/YPG terrorists from our border."
Perincek said, "in order to protect the territorial integrity of Turkey and Syria, we will continue to negotiate with the Syrian regime, and we will be committed to proceed by common action."
"As soon as I take office, I will invite Bashar al Assad to Ankara. I will meet with him at the airport. In this way, we will improve bilateral ties with Syria, which is a key actor in Turkey's relations between Iran, Russia and China," Perincek added.
In his manifesto, Erdogan referred to Turkey's bid to join the European Union, saying the country has never given up its objective for full membership despite the bitter exchanges between Ankara and some member states and long-stalled negotiations.
"Turkey has never given up on full membership in the EU, although we do not see the same determination or eagerness from our counterparts," he said.
Erdogan has been criticising many EU countries on their distaste for Turkey's bid even though the country is working on meeting the conditions.
In 2017, the tension between some EU countries – such as Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium – and Turkey increased after these countries prevented rallies by AK Party ministers for Turkey's April referendum.
Turkey’s EU Accession negotiations began in 2005 and 16 out of 35 chapters has been opened so far. In order to gain full membership, Turkey has to successfully conclude negotiations with the EU in all policy chapters. Until now, the negotiation process has been slowed down by a series of factors such as the Cyprus issue and also resistance by Germany and France to Turkey’s membership.
Ince, an MP of the CHP, promised to normalise Turkey’s relations with Western countries and the EU in the direction of the country’s national interest.
"We will negotiate with the EU till the end without any interruption. We aim to gain full membership," Ince said.
On the contrary, Perincek and the conservative SP's leader Karamollaoglu are not willing to be part of the European Union.
"We will not let Brussels and Washington command us; we will govern the country from Ankara," Perincek said.
"Turkey can have only business relations with the EU but not let them govern the country from Brussels," Karamollaoglu said.
Demirtas clarified his stance of focusing on democracy and supremacy of law, saying, "we will keep continuing to defend principles that are featured by the union, such as local democracy, human rights, the supremacy of law and separation of power."
"We will address the negotiations and full membership of the EU in the framework of our principles," he added.
The EU has been critical on the Turkish government's fight against the PKK, calling for talks to end the clashes. The YPG even has representatives around Europe.
The PKK is recognised as terrorist organisation by the US, EU and Ankara.
Situation of Jerusalem
The Palestine-Israel issue is the only foreign policy topic all the candidates agree on. They are all strong supporters of the Palestinian cause.
US President Donald Trump’s move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is being widely criticised in Turkey and abroad.
Erdogan fiercely objected to the move and said, "we will never accept the US attempt to move its embassy to Jerusalem and to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital."
"We will continue to make efforts until Palestinians have peace, until this time, Jerusalem will be our first Qibla [historically the Islamic direction for prayer]."
He also called on the international community to act swiftly to end the oppression in Palestine.
Later, the Turkish government called its ambassador in Tel Aviv back to Ankara for consultations and told the Israeli ambassador in Ankara to go back to Tel Aviv temporarily.
Aksener said, "what is happening now in Jerusalem is not just a regional issue, it is more than it; it is a crime against humanity, a massacre."
"At such times, the state and state representatives should do more than a condemnation message," she added.
Similar to Aksener, Karamollaoglu also said condemnations do not help to stop the massacre in Palestine. He underlined the necessity of enforcement sanctions against Israel to make a difference.
Ince slammed the US and Israel, saying, "they are persecuting Muslims in Palestine. Instead of a permanent peace in the Middle East, there is a permanent hostility. Turkey cannot be a mere spectator, it is not possible." CHP, at the same time, offered the Turkish parliament to boycott Israel and pass a law which would ban any trade with the country.
Perincek said, "East Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. The country’s struggle for independence and territorial integrity matters to Turkey."
Demirtas is also against Israel's occupational policies based on "ethnic cleansing." He promised to continue to support the recognition of Palestine as an independent state.
Turkey's ties with the US have been strained over the war in Syria, where Washington is supporting the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the YPG. Fetullah Gulen's extradition from the US – where he has been living in self-exile since the late 1990s – is also an issue of contempt between the two NATO member states.