Scenarios for the Turkish presidency

Scenarios for the Turkish presidency

As was expected, the debate for the presidential elections in Turkey started before the debates on March 30 local elections were even over.

It was President Abdullah Gül himself who kicked off the debate this time.

In answer to the questions of reporters during a visit to Kuwait, Gül said he had refrained from giving an answer to the questions about the presidency, including his possible candidacy for a second term, but that ‘the time had now come to talk about them.’

The expression ‘to talk about’ has a dual meaning here.

1) Gül’s taking about the subjects in public;

2) Gül’s talking about it with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan.

The critical question in a possible talk with Erdoğan will surely be which one of them becomes a candidate for next the stay at the Presidential Palace atop Çankaya Hill in Ankara.

The next president has to be elected by Aug. 27 of this year. It will be a popular vote – for the first time – in two rounds. So the campaign has to start by June. Gül has the constitutional right to be a candidate for another term for five years. He told reporters that issues, including his candidacy, should be ready by May.

But why has not announced his decision already, since it can be guessed that Gül is not uninterested in a second term. The answer is because Erdoğan wants to go to Çankaya and Gül doesn’t want to block his long-time fellow’s road if he announces his candidacy, since none of them would like to be candidates against one another.

“We’ll sit and talk,” Gül told reporters. “I mean, I would not learn anything about that from newspaper headlines. Nothing like an announcement for early elections. We sit and talk about those issues among ourselves.”

The question included the possibility of Erdoğan having the parliamentary elections of June 2015 early and as early as together with the first round of the presidential elections.

That possibility would surely put Gül in a difficult position. If so, he will not be able to put forth his candidacy for parliamentary elections since he is the incumbent president, unless he leaves the job; that means he will not be able to become the next prime minister if Erdoğan gets elected as president, too.

On the other hand, Gül is one of three pillars of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) together with Erdoğan and Bülent Arınç. Erdoğan is usually faithful to his old fellows, but he also has his own power agenda.

After winning 45 percent support despite corruption allegations and bans on the Internet, Erdoğan’s self-confidence is sky-high. The victory speech he delivered on election night showed that he is determined more than ever to achieve his targets, whatever it takes.

Especially after the Gezi protests in June 2013 and the graft probe in December 2013, it was thought that Erdoğan could give up on the idea of becoming president with a 50 percent, plus one vote and keep his prime ministerial post for another term by simply and easily change the party bylaw prohibiting more than three consecutive terms.

Now the picture might be different. Erdoğan could even think about changing the Constitution through a referendum to add more powers to the presidency and to secure 50 percent, he could increase the authority of local administrations, which could satisfy some of the demands for Kurdish autonomy raised by Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in his dialogue with the government in pursuit of a political solution to the Kurdish issue.

Another option for Erdoğan could be to secure an alliance with Kurds or with another political partner and go to Çankaya with the existing presidential powers (actually there is a lot of power to be used there) and with no responsibility, with a not-so-powerful prime minister.

But if Erdoğan sees those scenarios as too risky, he could settle back for another term for Gül, support him and carry on as is; in that case, early parliamentary elections would not be a necessity.

The opposition parties are simply waiting for Erdoğan to make up his mind, too. That is not because they are unable to produce candidates; the parliamentary arithmetic and the poll results do not permit them to come up with competitive names right now.
Erdoğan is control of the lock to Çankaya Palace, but he has not decided what kind of key he will use yet.