Why is Erdoğan holding out over his candidacy?

Why is Erdoğan holding out over his candidacy?

There is a little over seven weeks to go before the elections, but the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has still not announced its candidate for presidency. Prime Minister Erdoğan said Tuesday, June 17, that they have until July 3 to do so. The oddity is everyone knows who the AKP’s candidate is.

So why is Erdoğan still reluctant to come out and openly say he is running? This can hardly be because he fears losing. The opposition’s joint candidate Ekmeleddin İhsanoglu is a good choice, of course. İhsanoglu as president would become Turkey better, given his urbane manners, as opposed to Erdoğan’s abrasive and divisive ways.

Few expect him to win against Erdoğan though. Erdoğan is slated to win by just about every analyst, whether he does so in the first round of voting or the second. There must, therefore, be other reasons why he has still not announced his candidacy. The most common view is he is worried about a debilitating power struggle within the AKP after his departure.  

President Abdullah Gül, who decided not to run for president in order not to block Erdoğan’s path, has also indicated he is not interested in heading the AKP and becoming prime minister. There are strong AKP voices calling on Gül to change his mind. He may do so for the sake of the party he co-founded.
But that possibility cannot be all that pleasing for Erdoğan either, given that he has made it clear he wants to exercise full powers as president. While Gül can keep the party from falling apart, he is not likely to be the subservient prime minister that Erdoğan wants.

Constitutionally, Gül will still be the head of the executive and he will want to make this apparent for the sake of his own prestige. But if not Gül, then who will it be? This is what compounds Erdoğan’s dilemma. Without a name that can keep the AKP unified, there is the risk that the party will be weakened in the lead-up to general elections in 2015.

That is exactly what Erdoğan does not want because he needs a strong turnout for the AKP in those elections to change the Constitution and turn Turkey into a presidential system by law. The possibility that the AKP comes out worse, not better, from the next general elections must be a nightmare for him.

A weak AKP in Parliament, even if it wins the elections mathematically, and an opposition that is stronger, even if by a small margin, is no good for Erdoğan. He will be trapped in the presidency, in such an event, unable to engineer the constitutional changes he needs in order to exercise power the way he wants.

Some argue Erdoğan will remain the de facto leader of the AKP even if he becomes president, so it does not matter who the prime minister is, and he will manage to keep the party together. The legitimacy of this, however, is bound to be questioned by the opposition and even some AKP members.
These are just some of the considerations that must be giving Erdoğan sleepless nights. They also explain why he is holding out on announcing his candidacy. His main dilemma, however, is he has no choice anymore but to announce his candidacy.

He cannot remain prime minister unless he changes his party’s “three term rule” which limits the number of times a person can run in general elections. The AKP recently decided to uphold this rule and it would lose face if it went for an about-face for Erdoğan’s sake.

It may have no choice but to do so in the end, but looked at from the current perspective, it appears unlikely. Erdoğan has only one choice presently and that is to run for president. His hope then is to win in the first round on Aug. 10 in order to bolster his desire to exercise executive powers “as the people’s president.”

He will then hope the AKP remains intact so it can provide the necessary support for him as he fulfills his political mission. While Erdoğan’s presidency appears certain, the same cannot be said for the rest of this equation.