Best June scenario: Erdoğan loses and Davutoğlu wins

Best June scenario: Erdoğan loses and Davutoğlu wins

İlber Ortaylı is Turkey’s renowned professor of history whose main area of expertise is 19th-century Ottoman history, which is when Turks first started experimenting with pluralism and parliamentary democracy. He is a well-informed academic “who may sit crooked, but who talks straight,” to quote a Turkish saying. Put simply, he does not mince his words.

Interviewed by CNNTürk during a weekend talk show, Ortaylı slammed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ambition to overturn Turkey’s parliamentary system, which goes back 139 years, and to replace it with an unencumbered presidential system in which he becomes the leader who calls the shots without any political or legal constraints.

During the talk show, Ortaylı – who was appointed director of Topkapı Museum by the government in 2005, when Erdoğan was prime minister, and served in the post until 2012 – was at his blistering best. Asked about Erdoğan’s presidential ambitions he responded acidly.

“What presidency, brother? Is this Uruguay? We can’t have a presidential system. He [Erdoğan] may want to be the president [Ortaylı actually used the Turkish word “başkan,” which connotes “leader”], but Turkey can’t carry this. Such a system will collapse; it will only increase the conflict,” Ortaylı said.

He went on, nevertheless, to argue somewhat cynically that the June elections would most likely result in a public endorsement of the presidential system. Ortaylı recalled that 92 percent had voted for the constitution drawn up by the military after coup in 1980, which today is still being criticized for its undemocratic articles.

“This is a country of small worlds but big hopes,” Ortaylı said, pointing to a prevalent public indifference to the bigger issues, with people generally saying “let it be” until problems arise. He continued by delivering a strong “uppercut,” which is likely to have angered Erdoğan and his supporters.

“What do you think people did in Germany in 1933? Hitler came to power despite his totalitarianism which was the worst the world has ever seen, and he was always supported until those who opposed him united. This is a fine example of the ‘let it be approach,’” Ortaylı said.

Ortaylı also argued that the operative factor in such cases was not so much the unemployed members of the working class but members of the petit bourgeoisie who were afraid of losing their jobs.

There is much worth considering in Ortaylı’s words, which no doubt some in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) – where recent developments show not everyone is happy about Erdoğan’s ambitions – will also have taken note of.

One can nevertheless question Ortaylı’s certainty that the public will endorse Erdoğan’s dream of turning Turkey into a presidential system. It appears that even Erdoğan has some doubts on this score, because he is persistently calling on the public to elect 400 AKP deputies in the June elections so that the government can change the constitution comfortably and introduce a presidential system.

Most political analysts believe that number of deputies is unattainable for the AKP. Of course, the AKP could try to introduce a presidential system with 330 deputies but there are those who doubt it will attain even that number. As our editor, Murat Yetkin, pointed out on Monday, the stakes are indeed high for Erdoğan in June.

Anything under 330 deputies for the AKP will be a defeat for him. If the AKP gets 276 deputies, on the other hand, this will be enough for the AKP to come to power on its own and therefore be a victory for Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. It is clear from the perspective of those, like Ortaylı, who believe that a presidential system will ultimately be a disaster for Turkey, that the best outcome of the June election, given prevailing circumstances, is for Erdoğan to lose and Davutoglu to win.