As Turkey enters a new era

As Turkey enters a new era

Nearly four months after the local elections, Turkish citizens will go to the polls once again, this time, to elect the country’s 12th president. This election is particularly important, as it’s the first time a president will be elected through direct vote. Whoever will claim victory on Sunday will be marked as the first “elected president,” complicating the Turkish political and administrative system based on a parliamentary system.  

One of the most important observations regarding the presidential election process is that its law has many shortcomings that need to be corrected. It lacks provisions to force candidates to be more transparent regarding donations made to their campaigns; it should extend the pre-election process for a better campaigning and fund-raising period; it should introduce a way to increase the number of candidates, especially from civil society; it should bring about measures for a fair and equal competition between the candidates and it should oblige the resignations from official duties for candidates.

It seems the current law is tailored for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s election to the presidency. As underlined by the election monitors from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Council of Europe, the pre-election process was fully based on an unfair competition to Erdoğan’s advantage. The state broadcaster just worked for Erdoğan’s campaign, while Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu and Selahattin Demirtaş found hardly any chance to appear on the state broadcaster’s channels.

As suggested by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), an obligation for the candidates to participate to a live debate with other contenders could also be inserted into the new law, if it is amended one day.

As for the candidates’ performances, it could be said Erdoğan capitalized on the advantage he had of being prime minister and using the state’s means. He often used the concept “new Turkey” and promised his voters that he will continue to serve the country under his new capacity. In a bid to attract votes from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), he boosted his nationalistic rhetoric, while insulting Armenians, Alevis and Kurds at the expense of being criticized for using hate speech.

İhsanoğlu’s challenge was bigger, as he first tried to make himself known to the masses. The support he had from the CHP and the MHP was limited to the chairmen, as neither parties provided sufficient institutional backing to him. He could not offer much to voters except that he will be a protocol president to represent Turkey in the world in the most respectable and credible way. He fell short in making his arguments in many platforms and his blunders overshadowed many of his positive messages.

Demirtaş faced challenges and obstacles during his presidential campaign, but his messages were praised by a large group, including President Abdullah Gül and Kılıçdaroğlu. He opened his party to different segments of society and received a positive reception from them. He will likely increase his votes on Sunday’s polls, which would also strengthen his hands for the Kurdish reconciliation process.

Whoever will be elected on Sunday, the presidential polls will mark a new era for Turkey.