Erdoğan’s march to the Turkish presidency has begun

Erdoğan’s march to the Turkish presidency has begun

The Istanbul Congress of the ruling Justice and Development Parti (AKP) on Sunday, May 27, was covered by media because of what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said regarding the Uludere raid, in which 34 villagers engaged in smuggling were killed by jets when they were mistaken for militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as they crossed the Iraqi border into Turkey last December. That was only natural, because it’s not every day a prime minister denounces an opposition party as “necrophiles.” Erdoğan took aim at the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), accusing them of seeking a political opportunity over the dead bodies of the villagers. But the congress itself was important for the present and near future of Turkish politics.

First of all, it marked the first time in Turkey that a political party convened its provincial congress in a stadium, and not a modest one: The Galatasaray Arena is a 52,000-seat stadium, and it was full of AKP supporters. Erdoğan openly mocked the opposition parties, especially the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which had held its Istanbul congress earlier this month in a sports hall with a capacity of 5,000, with patches of empty seats and the usual fistfight between the delegates over the team of the next provincial chairman.

Erdoğan praised the 50,000-strong crowd, plus some thousands who were listening to him from outside the stadium, for being in unity and harmony. To sum it up, the Istanbul congress was designed to show anyone concerned how organized the AKP is, and that Erdoğan enjoys the support of crowds regardless of what he says on Uludere or abortion.

Secondly, this demonstration came amid the work of writing a brand new constitution for Turkey, and a debate over whether to have a presidential system similar to the United States, the second option being a semi-presidential one similar to that France. Erdoğan has made it clear during the debates of the last two months that he wouldn’t mind taking President Abdullah Gül’s place, when his own term is over in 2014. But more than one of his ministers has already backed up Erdoğan’s “Let’s discuss it,” saying in a visibly coordinated effort that the party would like to see the current system change, which could be translated as meaning that Erdoğan wants more power than Gül has now, if and when he becomes president.

Third, Erdoğan holds an influential weapon in his hands: The party regulation which bars members from being elected as members of Parliament more than three times is both a carrot and a stick. It is up to Erdoğan whether or not to change it, which would keep the way open for most of the current deputies and ministers to be re-elected or re-appointed, or to press for a bicameral Parliament by reintroducing the senate system in the new constitution. The scene at the Istanbul congress was of power that could be exercised not only over opposition parties but against the inner partners of the AKP as well. The AKP’s Istanbul congress could be considered the unofficial beginning of Erdoğan’s march toward the Turkish presidency.