Turkey to make a difficult choice at a critical time

Turkey to make a difficult choice at a critical time

More than 52 million Turkish voters are to make their choice for their next president for the first time in country’s political history. Before a political crisis in 2007 between the government and the military, it was Parliament that used to elect the president. Following that crisis, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had decided to go for a referendum over popular vote that was approved by nearly 70 percent.

Now, people will vote through a two-round election for a president to serve for a five-year term who could be a candidate for a second time. In another words, the 12th President if he (since there are no female candidates) is elected as the 13th, as well will have his term until 2024 and will celebrate the 100th year of the Turkish Republic as the head of the state, something having symbolic value for Turkish citizens.

Will Turkey mark its 100th year under the current political regime, or will it shift from a parliamentary system to a strong-presidential system? That is a valid question, as PM Erdoğan, as the leading candidate for replacing the incumbent President Abdullah Gül has structured his propaganda on the latter. He is for a stronger president to having a say on the government’s daily politics, but subject to lesser checks-and-balances, which triggered the question, inside and outside of Turkey, as to whether he has started developing an authoritarian attitude. Erdoğan denies that and defends himself by saying neither the judiciary, nor legislation and bureaucracy should obscure the capacity of executive power sourcing from people.

If the power from the people exceeds 50 percent, even with just one vote, Erdoğan would be elected in the first round on Aug. 10; if not he and the seemingly closest candidate Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu will compete in the second round Aug. 24 for simple majority in order to assume the post on Aug. 28.

The third candidate, Selahattin Demirtaş, who is the candidate mainly addressing the Kurdish problem, but receiving support from the Turkish left as well, is trying to get at least 10 percent of the votes; not enough for the second round – if there is one –  but would be enough to carry the issue to a more legalistic political platform.

İhsanoğlu’s propaganda, as supported by a number of political parties, but especially the two major ones, is the president should have symbolic value and oversee the harmony of the state in general, but leave state affairs to the government and Parliament, as it has been the case in Turkey so far.

That is why does Erdoğan use his “Old Turkey, New Turkey” metaphor. He is right in a way: That is the choice Turkey will make; either for a stronger presidential rule or a stronger parliamentary/government rule.

That choice is going to be made at a very critical time, when extremely critical cracks are observed in the political geography surrounding Turkey, from the extremely explosive situation in Syria and Iraq, to the Ukraine-Russia crisis and to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as reactivated tension between Azerbaijan and Armenia. That’s why Turkey’s choice will have reflections on regional politics as well.