Bumps on Erdoğan’s road to presidency

Bumps on Erdoğan’s road to presidency

It seems 2014 will be a busy year not only for Turkish politicians but for Turkish voters as well.

There were already two elections fixed for 2014, which had already made the year a critical one for the near future of politics in the country; the local elections in March and the presidential elections in August.

Local elections have always been full of surprises in Turkey since local personalities might dominate the party preferences from time to time and it usually serves as a real-time poll for the general tendency of politics; so they are important. But the presidential elections will be much more important regarding the way that Turkey is governed, since for the first time people will go to the ballot box to elect the president. Up until 2007 it was Parliament’s duty to elect the president for one term of seven years; Abdullah Gül got elected like that. But because of the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) forcing of parliamentary formalities against Gül and the military’s attempt to intervene in politics during Gül’s election proceedings, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) made a quick – and a bit hasty, even according to some AK Parti people now – move to go to a referendum for a public vote to elect a president.

That might be problematic, since the current Constitution divides the executive power between the president and the Cabinet and since the president will have to get at least 50 percent plus one of the votes to get elected (at the end of the second round, if necessary) for a five-year term with a possibility to be a candidate for a second term. So Turkey might end up with a situation in which the president could get more votes than the prime minister’s party, say in the 2015 general elections. That is one of the justifications of Erdoğan for his desire to be the next president of Turkey with more powers and less check-and-balance “obstacles.” And that’s why one of the two major stumbling blocks on the parliamentary work on a new and more democratic Constitution has been the presidential powers, the other being the definition of citizenship, which is closely related to the Kurdish issue.

So far, thanks to Erdoğan’s game-changing initiative to find a political solution to the Kurdish problem, the Kurdish problem-focused opposition Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) had hinted support for Erdoğan’s strong presidential model, at least to provide the necessary quorum to take the issue to a referendum; the CHP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) oppositions have stood against Erdoğan’s strong presidency from day one, claiming that it would turn into a sort of “dictatorship,” and that was why Erdoğan wanted to force a third ballot box on the voters for a referendum for more powers for the presidency, possibly in November, assuming that he would already have gotten elected and gone up to Çankaya hill in Ankara by then.

But the BDP changed its mind and joined that opposition front, saying they could discuss and cooperate on other issues of a new Constitution with the AK Parti, but not changing the current presidential system.

Perhaps that is a tactic to force Erdoğan to take more and quicker steps in the solution to the Kurdish problem; steps that he could have difficulty explaining to his own party, let alone other parties in Parliament.

Another bump on Erdoğan’s road to the presidency is a recent CHP proposal to have the 2015 general elections together with the local ones in March 2013. It is not easy for the AK Parti to accept it, since it could jeopardize Erdoğan’s chances in the presidential ones in August. Yet it is another clear message for Erdoğan that a more powerful presidency for himself might be more difficult for him than he thought originally.