Presidential elections after the Soma tragedy

Presidential elections after the Soma tragedy

As the country continues its efforts to heal the wounds after the tragic mine accident that killed 301 workers on May 13, with the government planning a package of new regulations to improve the working conditions of mine workers, the discussion over the upcoming presidential elections is gaining its place in the political agenda.

On the Justice and Development Party (AKP) side, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is almost certainly the ruling party’s presidential candidate. Both inter-party consultations and public opinion polls conducted by the party have identified Erdoğan as the AKP’s presidential candidate. But the announcement will have to wait a little more, as the pain is still fresh from the Soma accident and Erdoğan does not want to cast a shadow upon the national mourning.

In an address to his party fellows on Friday, Erdoğan stressed that they would announce their candidate within a very short period of time, as there are only two-and-half-months left to the polls.

The significance of this poll is not only that it will mark a first in Turkey of the people directly electing the head of the nation, but also it will be interpreted as the “signal flare” for the 2015 parliamentary elections.

Erdoğan perfectly knows that the only way to make his potential presidency an efficient and strong one - as he reportedly described - is to let his AKP win a good majority of parliamentary seats in next year’s polls. That’s why Erdoğan is not mulling over his presidential bid, but also his successor as the AKP chairman. With concerns that the three-term rule will cause an important “blood loss” inside the party and therefore in the upcoming local elections, there are more and more who call on Erdoğan to hand over the party to Abdullah Gül.

What puts Erdoğan and the AKP in a stronger position to win the presidential election is the opposition parties’ desperateness in introducing strong candidates to stand against the prime minister. The calls of the two main opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), for a joint candidate are unlikely to be realized as the parliamentary groups of both parties’ are not very warm to the idea.

On the CHP’s front, the resistance to supporting an MHP candidate is more resilient. Those opposed to this idea recall that the CHP’s rapprochement with the Fethullah Gülen community backfired, and that repeating the same mistake would give more damage to the unity of the party. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has begun consultations with civil society organizations and will continue with political parties next week, but it’s clear that they still have no clear names in their minds. Eskişehir Mayor Yılmaz Büyükerşen is among the names floating around the social democrat-leaning CHP members, followed by former party chairman Deniz Baykal and former European Court of Human Rights judge Rıza Türmen.

On the MHP’s side, Bahçeli’s proposal of a combined candidate is still valid and the decision over this proposal will be discussed in his face-to-face meeting with Kılıçdaroğlu in the coming weeks. On the MHP’s side, its Istanbul deputy Meral Akşener is seen one of the potential candidates. First elected to Parliament in 1995, Akşener served as the interior minister in the mid-1990s and is currently deputy Parliament speaker.

The People’s Democracy Party (HDP) is, however, not really focused on the presidential elections. Contrary to speculations, the party will nominate a presidential candidate, and both HDP and AKP officials deny that there will be a sort of alliance or cooperation between the two. Although there will be no such cooperation, it’s well-known that most Kurdish politicians believe that only Erdoğan can take the courageous steps necessary to resolve the Kurdish question. They believe that his election as a powerful president would yield results to this end.

One question pending is whether Erdoğan can still take 50 percent of votes in the first round of elections on Aug. 10. If he can make it as a politician whose main strategy and rhetoric is based on polarization, whose government has been shaken with massive corruption and fraud claims, whose international reputation has almost been zeroed, and who can no longer control his anger against his opponents, it will surely be a success.