Impressions from London
Unlike in 2011 and 2012, it wasn’t London that was calling this time around, but my dear friends Didem and Cüneyt. As I mentioned in my last column, I was attending their 80th (40+40) birthday party. I also found some time to talk to economists and fund managers.
In meetings during my previous visits in August 2011 and November 2012, I had been grilled on the nitty-gritty details of the Turkish economy. There was almost no mention of economics this time around. I was actually with a hedge fund manager when the Central Bank cut its policy rate 0.75 percentage points on June 24. We joked about how Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekçi would respond, and he did not disappoint.
The emphasis was instead on the August presidential elections. The economists and fund managers all thought that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would run. I got a lot of questions on the opposition candidate Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, who was often referred to as “the other guy,” “the new guy,” or “the opposition’s guy.” They unequivocally felt that he had no chance against Erdoğan.
Although I agree with them, after having read excellent analyses by the Hürriyet Daily News’ editor-in-chief Murat Yetkin and others, that Erdoğan will indeed run, I don’t feel that that his presidency is in the bag, as the London crowd is assuming. It might be useful to go through the numbers to see why.
Winning 43 percent of votes combined, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) together managed to do as well as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the local elections in March. There will of course be some who cross over to the other side, so it seems that whoever suffers less such casualties should emerge victorious. The decision of the Kurds and supporters of other parties will be key as well.
However, the real kingmakers may be not those who will vote, but those who won’t: The CHP’s choice of presidential candidate has not been well-taken by the party’s ultra-secularist voters and deputies. If one in five CHP voters opted not to go to the polls in protest, Erdoğan’s votes would rise, ceteris paribus, to 46 percent.
Economists and fund managers see Erdoğan’s presidency as a continuation of the status quo and therefore a market-friendly development. I am not so sure. Erdoğan has made it clear that he would convene the Cabinet at will and act as the de facto head of the government, invoking an article of the 1982 Constitution that was not even used by Kenan Evren, the leader of the 1980 coup who went on to become the country’s 7th president.
While the Cabinet and Erdoğan’s cherry-picked puppet prime minister may not mind this Turkish interpretation of the Putin-Medvedev model, the opposition - not to mention 50 percent of the country’s population - would. It is not hard to imagine that protests would follow, polarizing the country further.
As for me, I told the economists and fund managers I met that I would vote for the new guy if I managed to learn his name before the presidential elections. Even if I cannot, I think I can deduce him by elimination. After all, I’ve seen enough plundering and murdering to last a lifetime.