Atatürk's Republic

Following Turkish News, Politics, Arts and Culture

Archive for July 2014

Questioning the Outcome of Turkey’s Presidential Race

leave a comment »

Prime Minister Erdogan’s recent announcement of his candidacy to be Turkey’s first popularly elected President was, despite the AKP’s best efforts, utterly unsurprising. Erdogan and his party had been all but discussing it as a done deal for months prior. Now that his candidacy is official, commentators across the spectrum have largely been assuming that Erdogan’s electoral success is all but inevitable. Though Erdogan’s chances of winning are undoubtedly high, the effect that his two challengers will have on the August election, as well as how he will use the powers of his office if and when he does win, make the results of this election more unpredictable than it may first appear.

Erdogan’s rivals in this election are Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the joint candidate of the CHP/MHP parties and Selahattin Demirtaş, the candidate of the Kurdish HDP party. Ihsanoglu’s nomination was as surprising as Erdogan’s was predictable. Ihsanoglu is not a politician per se, let alone a member of either the CHP or MHP. Instead, he is a career diplomat and intellectual who most recently was the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. His endorsement by the two largest opposition parties, and three smaller ones, caught the Turkish political community and its followers off guard. As far as I know, he was not on any analyst’s list of probable candidates.

In certain respects Ihasnoglu is a solid choice for a Presidential candidate.  Both his academic and professional work have centered around Islam, giving him the potential to appeal to Turkey’s pious majority.  His diplomatic career, as well as his statements since beginning his campaign, indicate that Ihsanoglu would confine his role as president to the traditional, a-political figurehead role.  His short campaign has already had some ups and downs, one low point being the bizarre campaign slogan announced yesterday, but Ihsanoglu has made a good faith effort to reach out to a variety of underrepresented groups in Turkey, including Alevis and supporters of the Gezi movement.  Though Ihsanoglu is certainly no match for Erdogan, arguably there are no current CHP or MHP politician that would potentially make a better candidate or draw more votes.  Ihsanoglu has little chance of making a dent in the AKP base, but will likely collect the disaffected voters from the former AKP block- youth, liberals and possibly others.

The Kurdish candidate, Demirtas, was a bit of surprise as well.  There had been speculations that the Kurdish party would back Erdogan’s candidacy, in part because of Erdogan’s role in the ongoing Kurdish-Turkish peace process.  Demirtas will certainly take votes away from Erdogan in the first round of voting; Kurdish voters are unlikely to support any CHP or MHP candidate because of both parties’ historic (and present) nationalism.

This brings up the first major question: Will Erdogan win a majority in the first round of voting?

If no candidate wins a majority in the August 10 ballots, then a second round of voting will be scheduled.  Analysts agree that if Erdogan were to not receive a majority in the first round, but then presumably go on to win in the second round, his mandate would be diminished.

This leads to the related question: What percentage of the vote can each candidate expect to receive?

While Turkish polls are notoriously unreliable and often purposely biased, the recent local elections can provide us with a rough prediction.  The AKP received about 43% of the vote, the CHP and MHP a combined 43% of the vote and the Kurdish parties 6% of the vote.  This breakdown corresponds roughly with some poll results.  Other polls, notably trumpeted by the pro-government media, show Erdogan getting a majority in the first round (here, here and here) but these same polls are cited in the international media as well.

Erdogan may or may not win in the first round of voting, but barring some political disaster on his part (there are still Turkish diplomats being held for ransom by terrorists after all) it is safe to assume that one way or another Erdogan will get his wish to become president.  However, if voting goes to a second round, Erdogan’s mandate to rule may very well be diminished.

This leads to the next question: How will Erdogan use his power as President?

He has notoriously promised to use all his constitutionally given powers, something that current President Gul has refrained from doing, and generally continue to maintain his tight grip on Turkish politics.  However, it is still not clear if Erdogan will be able to gather power and centralize it as he clearly wishes to.  His efforts to change the constitution to create a strong, central and basically unchecked presidency have been thwarted in the past and, despite Erdogan’s change of office, there is no indication that the current political situation will allow Erdogan and the AKP to successfully relaunch their constitutional initiative.

Despite efforts to bring the judiciary under executive control, local courts and most notably the Constitutional Court have exhibited a remarkable level of independence and commitment to the rule of law.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Constitutional Court challenges Erdogan if and probably when he tries to overstep the constitutionally constrained bounds of the Presidency.

Finally there is the wild card of the next Prime Minister.  Current President Gul had initially denied the desire to fill this position, but rumors have been circulating lately that he may have changed his mind.  If Gul does eventually become PM (he would have to run and be elected to parliament first) some believe he may actually use the powers of the office to keep President Erdogan in check.  This would be constitutionally possible, but given Gul’s track record I remain skeptical.  However the fact remains that the next Prime Minister, whoever he may be (and it will be a he) will be able to challenge Erogan’s power if he so desires.

I have previously waxed optimistic about Turkey’s political future, probably overly so.  However, the future remains too uncertain to declare the end of Turkish democracy and assume that this election marks the beginning of Erdogan’s term as President for Life.  The political opposition remains divided and disorganized, but also makes up at least 50% of the population.  There is enough political discontent to keep Erdogan on his toes and, if there is a will in Parliament and the courts, make him fight for every inch of power.

Advertisements