Erdoğan’s rule will be much like İnönü’s
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a great critic of the political tradition represented by the Republican People's Party (CHP). For him, that tradition represents one-party rule, and governance imposed from above. He hit out at the party again after he was nominated by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to run for president.
Erdoğan named and blamed İsmet İnönü, a close associate of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and a long-time leader of the CHP, who also served as prime minister and president. İnönü, who was a staunch secularist and imposer of modernism from above, is a negative historic figure for Erdoğan and his Islamist supporters.
They look on him as a person who usurped power to prevent average people from living according to their beliefs. In other words, it’s the old secularist-Islamist dichotomy again. İnönü is not an infallible figure, of course, although he remains a towering name in modern Turkish history.
If Erdoğan were honest, he would nevertheless acknowledge that İnönü was the leading force behind the changes to the electoral law in 1946, despite strong opposition from within the CHP, which moved Turkey from a one-party state to a multi-party system.
If he were honest, Erdoğan would also acknowledge that İnönü peacefully conceded the CHP’s electoral defeat in 1950 and gave up the presidency, instead of trying to stay on by using the military, as anyone with dictatorial tendencies would have done in the political environment of those days.
All this aside, though, there are strong resemblances between what Erdoğan plans to do as president and what he is accusing İnönü of having done in the past. İnönü is often criticized for remaining the leader of the CHP after being elected president by Parliament, on the grounds that he should have been above party politics.
But no one believes Erdoğan is going to sever his ties with the AKP once he becomes president because without the AKP’s support, he will be unable to exercise the powers he intends to as president.
In other words, he needs a unified and strong AKP in Parliament that is run by a compliant leader who will carry out the president’s directives. Erdoğan also wants to be unencumbered as he rules, which means he does not want an obstructive Constitutional Court either, and needs a strong AKP in Parliament that will change the Constitution to enable this.
The AKP and its grassroots will, therefore, keep their eyes focused on Erdoğan, and the directives he gives, to achieve this. The relationship between him as president and the ruling AKP will therefore be much the same as the relationship between İnönü and the then-ruling CHP.
Of course Erdoğan’s principal justification will be that unlike İnönü, he will have been elected by the people. He will argue that that gives him legitimacy as the president of the people. But even if Erdoğan is elected in the first round of voting on Aug. 10, as he wants to be in order to bolster his argument about being the people’s president, he will not be “the people’s president” per se.
He will only be the president of those who voted for him in a deeply divided Turkey.
Erdoğan will not get the respect an impartial president should because those classes who did not vote for him, and for whom he clearly has no love, will question his legitimacy as he tries to exercise executive powers.
He will merely be the AKP’s president, promoting the party’s political ideology, instead of working for the benefit of all Turks, regardless of their beliefs. Without any checks and balances to place curbs, Erdoğan’s rule will therefore contain all the elements that he criticizes in the past rule of İnönü and the CHP.