Erdoğan’s dwindling presidential hopes

Erdoğan’s dwindling presidential hopes

The general elections are fast approaching. Many are wondering whether the political scene in Turkey will experience a change that may not relegate the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to the backseat, but which will nevertheless see it lose the magic that has brought it a succession of electoral victories since it first came to power in 2002.

That question will remain an open one until after voting is completed on June 7, and when the first results begin to come in that night. What seems more certain, however, is that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s chances of becoming the super-president he wants to be are dwindling.

These elections are important for him for one reason alone. He wants a strong turnout for the AKP so it can fashion a new constitution for Turkey on its own and in the process change the country’s political system from a parliamentary one to an all-powerful presidential one.

The chances that the AKP will get the 60 percent of the vote required to get the 400 deputies Erdoğan wants in order to introduce this system of government appear highly unlikely. For all its successes since 2002, this is a vote rate that the AKP has never before reached.

The latest opinion polls indicate that rather than increase its vote, the AKP is likely to lose support in these elections, even if it emerges as the top party again. There is even talk about the very real possibility that it may end up having to form a coalition government, which no doubt is adding to Erdoğan’s worries.

The unexpected results of the general elections in Great Britain recently indicate, of course, that such surveys can be seriously off the mark, even in countries with advanced democracies and good electoral monitoring systems.

But the findings of one such survey conducted by the Koç University, in partnership with the Open Society Foundation and Ohio State University, seem convincing if one is to judge by what ordinary Turkish citizens one meets on a daily basis say.

For one thing, the percentage of people who believe that the economy is in a state of decline has increased from 30 percent to 48 percent in one year, with 40 percent of those surveyed indicating unemployment as the most urgent problem facing the country.

The survey also reveals that the stigma of corruption has stuck to the AKP, with 42 percent of respondents saying the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is better suited to address this question, compared to just 26 percent who think the AKP is better suited.

The survey also shows that Erdoğan does not have a comfortable majority, even among AKP supporters, for introducing a presidential system to Turkey. Only 43 percent of respondents who said they were AKP supporters expressed their belief that Turkey will be better run by an all-powerful president. 

The overall number of all respondents – not just AKP supporters - who believe a presidential system will be better, on the other hand, remained at 27 percent. 

None of this means that the AKP will lose the elections. But what it does mean, at the very least, is that the AKP will most likely lose its comfortable majority in parliament and will have to compromise with the opposition much more than it has had to until now. Some analysts suggest that this is probably the best outcome, even for some members of the AKP who are uncomfortable with the kind of “leadership” system that Erdoğan is proposing.

What is certain is that Turkey is at a crossroads with these elections. There are serious economic and social problems that cannot be overcome under the kind of system Erdoğan is seeking, and which will need compromises in parliament. 

If Erdoğan is to be empowered in the way he wants, this will only aggravate the divisions we see in Turkey today which he has fuelled with his angry and bellicose approach to politics. As mentioned in this column before, the stakes will be high for Turkey on June 7.