Challenges awaiting İhsanoğlu’s presidential campaign

Challenges awaiting İhsanoğlu’s presidential campaign

When you read the comments of those who have come to know Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the opposition’s joint candidate, you realize that few would doubt he harbors the necessary criteria to be president.

First of all, he has already proven to be a statesman. He might not be experienced as far as local politics are concerned, but he has, no doubt, vast knowledge of international politics.  Few would question his international standing, as those familiar with his career say he draws respect from leaders from both the East and West. As far as foreign policy and international relations are concerned, therefore, he would not take long to learn. Plus, he already is familiar with the state bureaucracy in Ankara.

While Turkey’s presidents need to be above politics, that does not mean remaining indifferent or powerless as far as local politics is concerned, but to be equidistant from all political parties.

While he might not be familiar with the everyday-itsy-bitsy details of local politics, his experience as head of the Islamic Cooperation Organization (ICO) might help him in his dealings with local issues.

Heading any multilateral organization requires skill for reconciliation and consensus building; when we consider that a large majority of ICO members are made up of Arabs, who for decades have only agreed to disagree, İhsanoğlu probably excels in his skills as a consensus builder; this is what we really need in Çankaya, especially at times when political parties are at each other’s throats.

As head of the ICO, he made sure to be in good terms and dialogue with all key players. It was during his tenure that the U.S.’ relations with the ICO expanded, as Washington tasked its representation in Jeddah to officially deal with the ICO and Russia sent an observer to the organization.

“He is a good administrator, knowing the importance of delegating power and to seek working with the right experts,” a Turkish official who know him well told me. When Ömür Orhun, Turkey’s former envoy to Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) retired, he appointed him as his special envoy and advisor on human rights issues.

“He is also very keen on transparency. He did not want the organization to be seen as an entity behind closed doors,” the same official said. He chose a former journalist to work as his press advisor.

One of the criticisms voiced against Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is that he does not have an A – team consisting of his close associates. İhsanoğlu seems to understand the importance of working with a team. Yet, one the biggest challenges İhsanoğlu faces is a shortage of time. He needs to act very quickly in establishing a small, but efficient team to work for his campaign rally.

One of his biggest handicaps is everything stated above is unknown to the general public; and again, the time factor here plays against him, as he won’t have a lot of time to make himself known to the public. His looks and general body language can also play against him. While his moustache might imply a conservative background, his way of talking and manners reflects that of a sophisticated intellectual, in stark contrast to his potential rival Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose “street talk” strengthens his image among ordinary people as “one of us.”

İhsanoğlu might excel in discreet diplomatic talk, but could underperform when it comes to addressing the masses. To what degree Kılıçdaroğlu and National Movement Party’s (MHP) leader Devlet Bançeli’s campaign talks will help him remains to be seen. Coordinating the two parties, formulating messages that would appeal to both the CHP and MHP without sounding contradictory and confusing will definitely be huge challenges.