Whatever has been happening in Turkey and whatever Turkey has been undertaking in the regional and international arenas are more or less related to the upcoming presidential elections. When will the next elections be held? August or September of next year? Or November of this year, as being speculated nowadays? That appears to be an important yet irrelevant issue.
The 2019 — or perhaps 2018 — presidential elections will be first of its kind in Turkey and is definitely going to take the country to a totally different spectrum than what it used to be up until the July 15, 2016 attempted coup, or even before President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ascended to the highest public post of the country. It is a matter of debate whether after the presidential elections Turkey will become a country ruled with a presidential regime or slide toward authoritarian rule, as the opposition claims. As one political analyst joked discreetly, most probably those unhappy with the emergency rule powers used by the president and “his government” would perhaps be very regretful that they were critical of those powers when they see the presidential rule take over.
What’s at stake, indeed, is democratic governance. Since the emergency rule declared five days after the unfortunate July 15, 2016 coup attempt, Turkey has been living the rehearsal of what it might look like if legislative, executive and judicial powers are in the hands of one center. High court judges buttoning up their jackets in front of the president show how the judiciary of the country has become submissive to the presidency. The criticism has to be respected, of course. But the problem is far bigger and more serious than that. With the changes made gradually over the past few years, the Judges and Prosecutors Board (HSK), which no longer has the word “High” in its name, has been finally converted into some sort of a Justice Ministry department. With the political authority having so much dominance in the decision-making of that precious body, the expectation that it should be autonomous is compelled to remain as a wish.
As it appears, it might be argued that Erdoğan might not face any serious challenge in his reelection bid. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the conservative secularists might have some chance in the election if they could present a proper and acceptable candidate. But what is an acceptable candidate?
Latest opinion polls show that despite the Turkish military’s operation in Syria’s Afrin, the decline in the popularity of Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been continuing. An alliance forged with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) made things even worse. There are also rumors that because of threats the MHP might disintegrate and, of course, the worsening economic situation of the country, Erdoğan was thinking of going to the presidential and parliamentary elections this November.
The “acceptable candidate” of the opposition, however, cannot be another Ekmelettin İhsanoğlu. First of all, the candidate has to be someone young. A Kurdish prominent personality who is sufficiently accepted by secular Turks might be a great option. The candidate must at least be someone not only Kurds but secular conservatives and nationalists that moved to the İYİ (Good) Party might vote for wholeheartedly. Thus, rather than presenting a joint candidate, all opposition parties should perhaps nominate candidates with those criteria in mind, and whoever makes it to the second round becomes their candidate.
Erdoğan might push the election button any time he likes. But the opposition should take their position before they are badly ambushed.