Success in Afrin operation boosts chances of snap polls in Turkey: analysts

This photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, shows a civil defense worker carrying a wounded man after airstrikes hit a rebel-held suburb near Damascus, Syria, Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says waves of airstrikes hit at least five neighborhoods in the Eastern Ghouta suburb, the only remaining rebel stronghold near the capital, Damascus. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

Amid criticism that Turkey’s ruling party is seeking to exploit the ongoing military operation against Kurdish militia in Syria for domestic political gains, most analysts feel success in the theatre could serve to increase the possibility of snap elections.

If targets are achieved without many casualties in the Afrin operation, the government would want to take advantage of it in snap polls, Cahit Armagan Dilek, head of the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, told Xinhua.

Infuriated with continued U.S. military support for and reliance on the Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Turkish troops, backed by the rebel Free Syrian Army, launched an air and ground offensive on Jan. 20 to drive out the Kurdish militants from the Afrin canton in northwestern Syria.

Turkey is scheduled to hold parliamentary and presidential elections simultaneously in November 2019, and the country will switch to an executive presidency in case of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan clinching victory in the presidential polls.

Noting the Afrin operation is being presented by the media like a war rather than a cross-border anti-terrorism operation, Dilek said, “it appears the government wants to exploit the issue in the elections by creating an impression of victory in a war.”

Local media recently published pictures of Turkish flags mounted on hills captured from the YPG, which is seen by Ankara as the Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

There has been talk, though unconfirmed by the government, of early elections since last year. A victory over the Kurdish militia would make it almost a certainty, it is widely argued.

Claims about the AKP’s intention to politically exploit the operation makes sense, Haldun Solmazturk, a former general, told Xinhua.

Since the summer of 2016, Turkey has been working with Russia and Iran on Syria, though it refuses until now to cooperate with the Syrian government.

Almost all opposition parties backed the offensive against Afrin, while public support for it reached as high as 85 percent, according to some polls.

Mine Kirikkanat, a columnist for the Cumhuriyet daily, said on TV on Sunday that the success or relative failure in the ongoing operation may be a deciding factor in whether the government would call for early elections.

However, the current picture in the operation is not one that would boost the government’s chances in snap polls, said Solmazturk.

Noting the operation is advancing slower than expected, he said, “as the operation gets slower, the difficulties as well as casualties increase.”

Casualties of Turkish troops and its partners have increased over the past week, according to press reports. As of Wednesday, the Turkish military had lost nearly 20 servicemen in combat, while the Free Syrian Army had more than 20 deaths.

Problems like high casualties in the field would decrease the possibility of early elections, said Dilek.