Chess game for the presidential race

Chess game for the presidential race

Once upon a time, before hell broke loose, before Lice went up in arms, before the flag was removed and before Mosul became ISIL territory, there was the debate on the August presidential elections. So I will try to stick to that because it all seems linked together.

About a week ago, during a trip to Ankara, as I was watching a TV debate on a “joint-candidate” for the presidential race, I received a phone call from a very respected pollster. Dr. Özer Sencar, chairman of Metropoll Research, had been insisting on the only probability of a candidate close to Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Justice and Development Party (AK Party circles) to rival Prime Minister Erdoğan. And he put the logic very clearly.

“If the Republican People’s Party [CHP] puts out its own candidate” Sencar said, “It is almost certain that he/she will be the runner up for the second round. And that means losing against the Prime Minister.” Sencar’s argument was that MHP voters easily sway and vote for the CHP or AK Party, whereas the other two do not really move into the other camps. “In the Ankara mayoral race, we saw this,” he said, “Almost 98 percent of the CHP voters took it responsibly and voted for Mansur Yavaş. Now, if the CHP puts out its own candidate, the MHP voters will probably be split and this will only benefit the prime minister. The only candidate that can consolidate the CHP and MHP votes has to be someone that can steal some AK Party votes as well, however small that may be.”

Sencar’s theory lies on the basic assumption that if he runs, Erdoğan will inevitably be in need of two groups’ votes: Either the Kurds or the Nationalists. As a master of perception politics, he may even get both and lose both.

How? Look at what we have been through in one week.

By pushing the youth and the PKK issue, Erdoğan’s advisors managed to bring the peace talks to the front pages of newspapers and mainstream news channels. After the clashes in Lice and the infamous “flag” incident, he is courting the heartland nationalist vote. But wait, this “winner-takes-all” game may actually backfire.

Sources in Ankara hint that, Erdoğan is not categorically against Gül’s possible move to the Prime Ministry post anymore. Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay was the first to spell out openly that “Gül has to be convinced to be prime minister.” AK Party insiders see the clear and present danger of the party disintegrating as the world around us collapses.

The hostage-taking incident in the Turkish Consulate in Mosul is the biggest foreign policy challenge this government has ever encountered. Leaving aside the ASALA terror in the 1980s, Turkey has never been so vulnerable to threats around its borders and it has never been threatened by a “friendly fire.” Can Erdoğan’s war Cabinet turn this into a negotiation opportunity and become hero? Not impossible, but very unlikely.

In the game of chess your actions come back to haunt you.

Whatever you had decided to do with the pawn five years ago may be your biggest mistake as the knight and rook close down on you. As you cry and look for ways to save your king, your queen may already be in the rival’s hands and off of the game board.

You have two moves left.