How İhsanoğlu’s candidacy changed the mathematics of Turkish politics?
It is not clear yet how two Turkish political leaders belonging to different ideologies have come up with a third name with a totally different ideology, but with no political background as their Presidential candidate against Turkey’s powerful prime minister. But it has already altered, rather shifted the mathematics of Turkish politics.
As you know, the two leaders are the social democrat Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Turkish nationalist Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the third name as candidate is the former Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, and the powerful Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan of the conservative Justice and Development Party (AK Parti).
Kılıçdaroğlu’s announcement of İhsanoğlu during his visit to Bahçeli on June 16 in the Parliament and Bahçeli’s backing of him caught Erdoğan off balance.
His close aides immediately started to whisper around political circles in Ankara and business circles in Istanbul that Erdoğan was very happy of İhsanoğlu’s candidacy whom he was considering as a piece of cake. According to rumors, the AK Parti was actually considering either a staunch Kemalist from CHP, who could only aim to get at most of the CHP votes in March 30, around 27 percent, or a conservative figure like Haşim Kılç, the top judge of the Constitutional Court because of his recent stance which annoyed Erdoğan.
But the reality was a bit different. First of all İhsanoğlu used to be a success story for the AK Parti. He was Erdoğan’s reply to Western prejudice on Islam. As a well being educated, pious but secular lifestyle diplomat-like polyglot academic (there is a scientific award in his name), he had been promoted by Erdoğan in 2004 as the candidate for leading the OIC. He won the (first ever) OIC elections and served successfully, raising women and children rights issues for the first time in the Islamic body.
Things went suddenly sour when İhsanoğlu did not play the AK Parti tune but the OIC line regarding the coup which toppled the Muslim Brotherhood member President Mohamad Mursi in Egypt on June 3, 2013.
When İhsanoğlu voiced the OIC reaction, not exactly same as Erdoğan’s, after the August 14 massacre in Cairo, Erdoğan (who adopted the four-finger Rabia as a political sign) did not turn up to the wedding ceremony of İhsanoğlu’s son on August 25, despite his promises earlier, which marked the end of their relationship.
İhsanoğlu is still a respected wise-man for many AK Parti members and it is not likely that Erdoğan is going to base his campaign on antagonism against İhsanoğlu. But that is something against Erdoğan’s usual line; he knows that antagonism works for conservative voters.
And by supporting İhsanoğlu as their candidate for Presidency, Kılıçdaroğlu and Bahçeli have actually told not only to Western world, but also to the Islamic world that Erdoğan is longer without an alternative. For the first time since 2002, now there is an internationally known, Muslim, secular, moderate and respectable figure standing against Erdoğan.
It is of secondary importance whether İhsanoğlu will win. Even if he loses, İhsanoğlu has ended the image of Erdoğan of without an alternative.
It is possible that when Erdoğan looks at İhsanoğlu, he might see a mixture of Abdul Fattah el-Sisi and Kemal Derviş, the Turkish citizen World Bank economist who had been invited to Turkey in 2001 in order to save the bankrupt financial system.
By this way, İhsanoğlu’s candidacy has not only turned the single (Erdoğan) unknown, single parameter Turkish political equation into a two-unknown, or two-parameters one; but three.
The third parameter is Selahattin Demirtaş, the candidate of the Kurdish problem focused Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP).
Since the beginning of the Kurdish peace dialogue initiative by Erdoğan in 2012, the Kurdish parameter had been embedded into the Erdoğan parameter. Erdoğan’s tactic was to drag the feet until the ballot box, telling (via his intelligence, MİT chief Hakan Fidan) to Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), that the promises would be met after the elections.
For example, if İhsanoğlu would not be found as a joint opposition candidate and if Kılıçdaroğlu had not paid a visit to Diyarbakır to meet with Kurdish opinion holders, the Parliament would go on summer recess on July 1 as it was planned, also to be the reason why a legal package on Kurdish solution would have to wait until after the elections. But with the forcing, Erdoğan has extended the recess to submit the Kurdish package to Parliament admitting the key role that Kurdish voters in Presidential elections, of which the first round is scheduled for Aug. 10. In a way, İhsanoğlu candidacy has also liberated the Kurdish votes as an independent parameter.
As a side effect, the İhsanoğlu candidacy might help the CHP to transform into a modern social democratic party as well. The dogmatic Kemalist’s in the party who rejected the idea of İhsanoğlu being their candidate have failed to reach even half of the 20 MP signatures needed to show an eligible name as Presidential candidate, also showing that they are losing ground in Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s “New CHP.”