Erdoğan’s game plan

Erdoğan’s game plan

This Sunday, Aug. 10, millions of Turks will go to the ballots to elect Turkey’s next president. Few doubt that among the three competing candidates, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the leading one. It is quite probable that he can win the race this very Sunday, without the need for a second round, by getting more than 50 percent of the votes.

As Erdoğan himself and his supporters openly say, this will be unlike any presidency Turkey has seen — since Atatürk. Despite the fact the Turkish Constitution defines the presidency as a “non-partisan” seat, it seems obvious that Erdoğan will keep ruling his party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) from behind-the-scenes. It is commonly expected that Erdoğan will appoint a loyal member as prime minister and maintain his domination over the government, the party organization, Parliament and pro-Erdoğan media. (The people being rumored as the potential prime minister are Ahmet Davutoğlu, Bülent Arınç, Binali Yıldırım and Mehmet Şahin.)

What this also means is Erdoğan does not wish to leave any chance for Abdullah Gül, the man who founded the AKP with him some 13 years ago, in the political scene. Gül’s presidency is ending with this election and there is a hope among moderates within the AKP, and even some liberals, that he can come back to the party and restore it on the more reconciliatory and pro-EU lines the AKP followed in its initial years. But Erdoğan, apparently, has been taking all measures possible to block this scenario. He, for example, recently disestablished the AKP organizations in more than 50 provinces, to reestablish them by bringing hardcore loyalists to his persona. One of those provinces was Kayseri, where Gül is from.

But how exactly will Erdoğan control the executive in the presence of a prime minister? Well, the Constitution says the President may “chair Cabinet meetings … if he deems necessary.” This is a power that has almost never been used by former presidents, but Erdoğan recently said he will use it “about once a month.” He apparently envisions the prime minister as a secretary to his office. In the longer run, he also hopes to amend the Constitution significantly and turn his all-powerful presidency ideal into a more coherent system.

One thing Erdoğan promises to do after the elections, is hold more scrutiny over the “parallel state,” or the Gülen Movement network within the state bureaucracy. This network is arguably not totally imaginary and some of its wrongdoings (such as extensive wiretaps) seem to deserve legal prosecution. However, Erdoğan’s purge on the “parallel state” has already turned into a vicious witch-hunt, demonizing anything (schools, NGOs, companies, banks) that is affiliated with the Gülen Movement. Moreover, the accusation of being “parallel” is now used by Erdoğan loyalists to vilify anyone who is not pro-Erdoğan enough or anti-Gülen enough. Even Ali Babacan, the successful minister of the economy, is now rumored to be “parallel,” simply because he tried to help save Bank Asya, a Gülen Movement affiliate, from economic decline.

All these signs indicate that there is a tense era ahead, unless Erdoğan takes a miraculous turn opting for reconciliation instead of demonization, and power-sharing instead of hegemony. And how long may that tense era last? A decade at least (5+5 years), according to Erdoğan’s game plan.