It’s all about Erdoğan’s way

It’s all about Erdoğan’s way

Following Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the candidate supported by a coalition of opposition parties on July 10, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also revealed his perspective for Turkish presidency on July 11 in Istanbul during a pompous show, as there is less than a month left for the first round of elections on Aug. 10. The third candidate, Selahattin Demirtaş as supported by the Kurdish problem-focused HDP opposition will speak on July 15, again in Istanbul.

Erdoğan once again underlined in his long speech (under the title “On the road to a new Turkey”) that he will be a president without any hesitation to use all of the executive powers in order to make his targets for 2023, the 100th year of the Turkish Republic real. It is not hard to guess that he would like to run for a second five-year term in 2019, if he is elected.

And he is pretty sure that he is going to be elected in the first round. There are polls showing his rate for Aug. 10 between 52 and 55 percent; one of them raised the bar as high as 58 percent, which is the approval rate for constitutional amendments as of the 2010 referendum.

Erdoğan doesn’t want to leave anything to chance, so he is using one of the world’s oldest military strategies: Get there first, with the most.

He has maximized all of his capabilities as the head of the government, not only to secure a win on the first round of elections, but also to make major actors of Turkish society acknowledge and show they have acknowledged his power. Here are a few examples for that:

•    Campaign conditions: The time between the finalization of the candidacies (July 11) and the ballots is only a month. That is also the legal propaganda period for other candidates, but Erdoğan has been carrying a campaign in practice now for a long time. He naturally gets PM treatment where ever he visits. Other candidates have asked for his resignation for just and equal conditions, only to be mocked by Erdoğan.

•    Campaign financing: The law says campaigns can only be financed by individual donations. The maximum amount is 9,082 Turkish Liras ($4,220), in accordance with a public servant salary index. A civil society platform “Checks and Balances Network” (DDA) has opened a campaign for the donations to be made transparently by actual individuals. But the campaign opened by Erdoğan supporters on July 11 is likely to trigger a race among business circles over who would donate more (not directly, but through fan club-like funds) to the Erdoğan campaign, where lucrative public tenders are in question.

•    Use of the media: For years now, every one of Erdoğan’s activities as PM has been live on the screens of almost all 20 strong national TV channels of Turkey, no matter how long it takes. There is no official rule about that, but most of the channel owners are also winners of government tenders and the others do not want to be singled out by Erdoğan. But the picture is particularly worrying for Turkey’s government-controlled public broadcaster TRT. Both Demirtaş and İhsanoğlu gave particular examples of arbitrary three-consecutive-days of broadcast by TRT, where Erdoğan received 305 minutes of coverage, whereas the other two had zero, despite the fact that by law it has to give just and fair coverage to all.

The last item especially contributes a lot to the penetration of his “superiority” language he uses at every layer of society. The psychology Erdoğan wants to create among those who do not support him is that their efforts will make no difference against his power.

It’s all about Erdoğan’s way. He already had nearly 45 percent of the votes in the local elections on March 30 of this year. Erdoğan is a master when it comes to consolidating his power base by using antagonism.

The main antagonism in this campaign is likely to be the need for a stronger president with more executive powers and less check-and-balances for a stronger “new” Turkey, versus the current Parliament-focused system with a separation of powers.

This is populism at its extremes and his supporters like that. If the opposition cannot find quick and effective measures to reverse the flow, Erdoğan is likely to be the strongman of Turkey, at a time when neither the U.S., EU nor NATO feel like having the luxury of questioning the quality of their ally when its borders are in flames.