Options for the presidency

Options for the presidency

These days, almost everybody that I see asks me about Turkey’s options regarding the presidential race in August. So, to help them all, I have decided to summarize the following.

First, let me note that these elections, scheduled to take place in August in two possible consecutive rounds, will be a first in Turkish history. Because until now, the presidency, a largely symbolic yet still key post, was a seat elected by the Parliament. But in 2007, right after the election of the current president, Abdullah Gül, the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) passed a constitutional amendment, via a referendum, which made the presidency a popularly elected post. The idea was to get rid of the military’s constant interventions to impose certain choices for “Atatürk’s office.”

Now, seven years later, the seven-year term of Abdullah Gül, who was elected according to the old system, is to expire. And Turkey will experience a whole new election campaign whose rules are unknown to most.

Not to bore you with technicalities, here are the options I see ahead:

Option A: PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan runs and wins the presidency. But then he supports Gül to get into politics, join the AKP to become its new leader, and become the new prime minister soon, either via a “mini-election” or in the general elections of 2015.

Although this switch-scenario sounds a bit Russian, it is still preferred by most liberals, because they want to see Gül in a powerful seat such as the prime ministry. (Because Gül, repeatedly, has proven to be more reconciliatory, liberal-leaning and globally minded than Erdoğan.)

Option B: Erdoğan runs and wins the presidency, but then he decides to go solo. In other words, he refrains from supporting Gül for the AKP’s leadership, and rather tips a much more loyal, and much less significant, name for the prime ministry, who would be his yes-man. (Some speculate that he might even decide to push for a presidential system, with major constitutional changes, once he gets into the office.) Turkey would turn into a full “one-man-system.”

If this happens, one might expect Gül to throw his lot in with his own political camp and spearhead a new political movement leaning toward the center-right rather than the growingly assertive Islamism of Erdoğan.

Option C: Erdoğan runs but loses the presidency. This is not very likely, because Erdoğan already has a solid 45 percent of the votes, and he seems likely to get the support of Kurdish nationalists in a possible second-round election. Moreover, the opposition does not seem to have a name that is powerful enough to challenge Erdoğan. It would be almost a miracle, thus, if opposition parties do find such a name in the upcoming weeks and succeed in defeating Erdoğan at the polls.

Option D: Erdoğan decides to continue his life as a prime minister and support Gül for a second term as president. He would then have to change the three-term limit the AKP has, and get ready for his third term. Some speculate that he can do this because the presidency is actually less powerful than the prime ministry and Erdoğan is happy with his current job.

Which option will prevail? Nobody knows right now, because it is up to a decision that Erdoğan and Gül will make together sometime this April. This is Turkey’s patriarchal politics, after all, and most things are decided by a strong man at the last moment.