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MURAT YETKİN > As Erdoğan’s chances for presidency diminish

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There are two reasons why people who are concerned over Turkey are eager to see what President Abdullah Gül will do regarding disputed bills, such as the one about Internet limitations or about political control over the judiciary.

The first reason is about freedom of expression and judicial independence in Turkey. 

The second reason is about the quality of democracy in Turkey, too, but in a different way. It is about who will be the next president of Turkey.

For the time being, there are only two candidates to the two-term elections to be completed by Aug. 27, 2014, in roughly six months’ time: Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan or incumbent President Gül for a second term.

In this first presidential election through popular vote, a candidate has to get at least 50 percent plus one vote to be the next, 12th president of Turkey.

It was already pretty clear that Erdoğan would like to ascend to the Presidential Palace on top of Çankaya Hill in Ankara when he got 50 percent of the votes in the June 2011 general elections. 

Actually, he was not happy with the powers and authority of the Turkish president, he wanted more. At one point he criticized the U.S. system for giving too little initiative to the presidency. He also made it clear that he saw the separation of executive, legislative and judiciary powers as a stumbling block to executive power. Erdoğan also promoted the idea of the president keeping the party leadership position even after being elected, hinting that he did not want to leave the chair of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) to a successor, even if that successor is his long time fellow Gül.

He was hinting at a referendum for the kind of system that could lead Turkey into a sort of party-state ruled by one leader.

But times were different then. The Arab Spring was still at full speed, the Muslim Brotherhood was on the rise everywhere, the Turkish economy was not yet affected by U.S. Federal Reserve decisions, and Erdoğan’s authority did not seem vulnerable at all.

Erdoğan’s hardline stance against the Gezi protests changed everything. He started to lose urban liberal support, which meant a lot during the reforms of the first few AK Parti years. However, he managed to consolidate his power with the grassroots with a “If I go, you’ll suffer” kind of “boogeyman” rhetoric.

Things started to get worse after Erdoğan’s confrontation with his longtime ally Fethullan Gülen, a U.S.-resident moderate Islamist scholar, following the start of the Dec. 17, 2013 graft probe. Erdoğan saw Gülenist prosecutors, judges and policemen behind it.

But Gülenists have a certain influence over the AK Parti grassroots, since their sympathizers had knocked on doors across the country over the last few elections on behalf of Erdoğan. The prime minister is worried that they will do the opposite for the March 30 local elections.

Of course, the presidential polls are more important than the locals. But the locals will be indicative of Erdoğan’s power.

AK Parti spokesmen have already started to say that if they get less than 40 percent in the locals, they might change their presidency scenario. But that actually is a preemptive move in order to be able to present a 40-45 percent result, if they can get it, as a major victory for Erdoğan.

Such high support might again carry Erdoğan to the prime ministry in the next elections – perhaps in early elections this year - but it would fall short for the presidency. Erdoğan would have to change the “maximum of three consecutive terms in Parliament” rule in the AK Parti and focus on keeping the government.

But he may not give up so easily. According to whispers in the political corridors of Ankara, he might try to go to a referendum to change to a presidential system, relying on Kurdish votes based on the dialogue with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for a political solution to the Kurdish issue. But that has the risk of causing further annoyance within the AK Parti.

That could risk not only his presidency, but also Gül’s second term. Gül’s chances are already not helped with the disputed bills that have been sent for approval one after another by Erdoğan.

February/18/2014

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