As expected, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won the presidential elections last Sunday, Aug. 10. His vote, around 52 percent, was in fact a bit lower then what he and his supporters expected. Yet still, it was a decisive victory for a leader who has already spent 12 years in power and against whom many parties and camps joined forces.
The other success was that of Selahattin Demirtaş, the Kurdish candidate. His vote, which was almost 10 percent, exceeded the usual percentage the pro-Kurdish parties receive, which fluctuates at around 6 percent. This was made possible by Demirtaş’s successful campaign, which emphasized liberal values, rather than a narrow ethnic nationalism. Here is thus a hint for all those on the liberal left who hope to challenge the almighty Erdoğan with something better than the main opposition’s decades-old dry and uninspiring rhetoric.
The third candidate, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, was apparently the unsuccessful one. In fact, Dr. İhsanoğlu, a retired academic and diplomat, gained the respect of many, including myself, with his polite, humble, erudite persona and rhetoric. But, alas, that is precisely what many Turks dislike these days, at a time when politics has become an arena of raging and ruthless gladiators. The fact that his campaign was poorly organized by the two main opposition parties who presented him as a “joint candidate” was also a factor in İhsanoğlu’s loss.
The big question now is to where will Turkey head under Erdoğan’s presidency? There is no doubt that he wants to turn this traditionally symbolic post into a power house and keep on ruling the executive with a loyal prime minister. That is why Abdullah Gül, the man who founded the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) some 13 years ago with Erdoğan and who has been one of its two pillars, has been sidelined by carefully calculated maneuvers. (Under Erdoğan, the AKP yesterday announced that Aug. 27 will be the date when the party congress elects its new party leader: just one day before Gül’s presidency ends.)
The expected scenario is Erdoğan will point to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu as the new leader, thus the prime minister, and so he will be elected as such in the party congress on Aug. 27. Davutoğlu fits both of the roles Erdoğan would want to see: He is loyal to Erdoğan and has no disagreements with him on any of the important policy matters. He also has charisma and respect in party circles, as well as internationally.
The next challenge, however, will be keeping this Erdoğan-less AKP from continually winning elections. Erdoğan in fact aims for a major victory in the general elections of 2015, hoping the AKP may win enough seats to change the Constitution, creating the “presidential system” he has been advocating.
But this is no easy task and a possible decline in AKP votes might ring alarms bells in the party. Some think that a leadership for Abdullah Gül can be possible only then; when the party might feel the need for some restoration — and reconciliation at home and abroad.
In short, there are some known unknowns for the months ahead. One thing is very known and clear though. Despite the clause in the Constitution that says the president will be “non-partisan,” President Erdoğan will keep on guiding his party, and formulating its policies.