Critical weekend for presidential elections

Critical weekend for presidential elections

It will be clear by the end of this weekend whether there will be a Kurdish force up against the possible candidacy of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It is still a possibility despite the legal package that Erdoğan submitted to Parliament on June 26 in order to attract, or at least pacify, Kurdish voters for the presidential elections, the first round of which will be held Aug. 10.

Following a June 26 visit by a parliamentary delegation of the Kurdish problem-oriented Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) to Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been in dialogue with Erdoğan via his National Intelligence Agency (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan, the HDP is going to gather its decision-making bodies to name its presidential candidate.

The first reports indicated that Öcalan welcomed the “package,” which aims to legalize the opaque dialogue that has been going on for nearly three years, as a “historic step.” But it is not clear whether such a welcome will be enough for the PKK to open the way for Erdoğan to easily grab ultimate power in the first round.

If the HDP comes up with a strong candidate, such as its co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş and carries out a strong campaign, this will mean that they want to keep Erdoğan below the 50 percent threshold that is needed to win in the first round. If that is the case, the second round on Aug. 24 will be held between the top two candidates, with a simple majority being required for victory. The HDP could aim to gain bargaining power in this way, in order to get some more from Erdoğan in terms of autonomy rights and better prison conditions for Öcalan.

Denying that they are already bargaining with Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government over the first round of presidency, Demirtaş recently told Habertürk TV that if his party decides for it over the weekend he would like to run for the presidency, in order to be the voice of “Everyone who is excluded from the system, Kurd or Turk.” He implied that his aim would not be to win the election, but to say, “We are here.” Answering the reporter’s question on whether the HDP would consider voting for the other opposition candidate, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, in the possible second round against Erdoğan, Demirtaş gave a very diplomatic answer, saying, “Everything is on table.” This means that if the HDP does not stand against Erdoğan, the other two options are either supporting Erdoğan or - more likely - a boycott. Both these would carry Erdoğan up to the Presidential Palace on top of Çankaya Hill in Ankara.

İhsanoğlu, the former secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), is a respected academic-diplomat; an observant believer with a clearly secular lifestyle supported both by the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

AK Parti officials rule out all of those scenarios and claim that, without the need of Kurdish votes, Erdoğan is going to win the election on the first round regardless, as inter-party polls suggest. This would seem a little contradictory given Erdoğan’s last minute move to bring a Kurdish package to Parliament.

Now, to kick off the race, Erdoğan is likely to announce his candidacy during an ostentatious meeting in Ankara on July 1.