With NATO entry blocked, Sweden turns hopeful eye toward Turkey’s presidential elections

Sweden’s hopes of quickly following Finland into NATO membership have alighted on Turkey’s presidential election in May, in which recent polls show President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s 20-year rule is in danger of ending.

“The signals that Sweden has gotten from the opposition have been very good,” Paul Levin, director of Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies, said of the National Alliance coalition of six parties challenging Erdogan. “The opposition has indicated that they would ratify Sweden’s NATO membership rather soon.”

In recent months, Erdogan’s popularity in Turkey has sharply eroded due to factors including the country’s economic hyperinflation, February’s devastating earthquakes that killed upwards of 50,000 and the government’s slow and lackluster response to the disaster. As Erdogan’s problems have mounted, Kemal Kilicdaroglu (pronounced “ka-LEECH-da-ro-lo”), the leader of the National Alliance coalition, has in recent weeks begun polling ahead of the president.

Moderate and more secular but lacking Erdogan’s charisma, Kilicdaroglu is known as “Turkey’s Gandhi” after he walked 200 miles from Istanbul to Ankara in a “March for Justice” six years ago in protest of Erdogan’s antidemocratic legislation. While few would previously have given him much of a chance to win, recent voter surveys show him ahead by 3% to 10%. If that political earthquake were to actually come to pass on May 14, many experts say the effects would certainly be felt in Sweden.

“If Kemal Kilicdaroglu wins the presidential elections, the chances for Sweden to become a member of NATO would increase,” foreign policy analyst Pinar Sayan, an associate fellow at the Istanbul Political Research Institute, told Yahoo News.

Although Turkey voted to approve Finland’s entry into NATO last week over objections from Russia, it has so far blocked Sweden from joining. Erdogan has demanded that Stockholm extradite dozens of Kurdish immigrants — an ethnic minority in Turkey involved in secession attempts and militant actions — whom Turkey’s government deems to be terrorists. Over the past year, Sweden has extradited only three.


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