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Turkey’s Syria Policy Questioned Ahead of Election

FILE - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's government faces increasing criticism for insisting that President Bashar al-Assad's immediate removal is the only way to end the conflict in Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AKP Party have been in the forefront of calling for the immediate removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as the only way to end the Syrian civil war.

Ankara is one of the main backers of Syrian opposition groups fighting the Assad regime. But with Turkey heading toward a general election Sunday, the Erdogan government’s Syrian policy is coming under increasing scrutiny. The government’s opponents blame it for the country having to house more than 2 million refugees. Critics also say it’s causing Turkey to become increasingly isolated diplomatically.

Calls for change also are coming from within the ruling AKP, and there is growing speculation of a post-election policy shift.

Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar in Brussels with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says there are already signs that Turkey is softening its stance on Syria.

"There will be change, if already President Erdogan has alluded to, from asking Assad to leave as a precondition of any settlement talks, to Assad as a party to the negotiations, but he would still need to leave, once the transition period has started," Ulgen said.

AKP expected to be vulnerable

Syrian policy reassessment is likely to get further impetus after the election, which is expected to see the AKP needing a coalition partner.

All the opposition parties are calling for a more pragmatic approach that includes a role for Assad in peace efforts.

But AKP leader Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu remains a stumbling block to change, according to Cumhuriyet newspaper political columnist Semih Idiz.

"He was signaling that he will remain firm to his position," Idiz said of Davutoglu. "It has not led to anything, and most people are attributing the whole Syrian failure to him. He is the fall guy even for Erdogan in this respect. So, yes, it will probably be the end of his political vision also."

Davutoglu’s leadership could be in question. He’s been blamed by many for his party’s failure to secure a majority in the June general election. Observers say a second failing, in the November poll, could make him vulnerable.

Any change in the AKP leadership is widely seen as further facilitating a change in Syria policy.

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