Presidential candidate İhsanoğlu: ‘We aim to win with 55 percent’
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
HÜRRİYET photo, Murat SAKAEkmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the joint presidential candidate of five opposition parties in Turkey, has told the Hürriyet Daily News in an exclusive interview that he aims to win next month’s elections with 55 percent of the vote.
“There is a fatigue of the repeated political discourse and people are asking for change as well as peace and stability,” İnsanoğlu said.
How do you define yourself? Some skeptics believe you come from the culture of political Islam?
For at least for nine years I have been criticizing what is called political Islam. I did this as a secretary of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). I also clearly explained my ideas in one of my books. The religious domain and the political domain should not interfere with each other; politics should not mix with religion. Religion stands for eternal values, while political issues are temporary and change daily.
You cannot judge daily issues with eternal values. The relation between the two should be one of respect and peaceful co-existence. There was a long experience in the relation between religion and politics in Europe and America, and then for the first time in the history of the Muslim world the first secular experience came in Turkey - in the first years of the republican regime. Of course, this experience had some ups and downs. As of today, I think the Turkish people and administration have matured enough to regulate the relation between the two spheres, with a few exceptions of certain politicians who like to exploit one sphere for the other. I am saying this should not be done.
So do you share the criticism that there has been a process of Islamization in Turkey?
I am against using religion in politics anywhere in the Muslim world. The calamities we are facing today in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere are coming because of the misuse of religion in politics.
Do you believe there is a growing trend for political Islam in Turkey?
I think there are certain people who would like to use this. But my experience in the last few days, mixing with people in the Central Anatolian and Black Sea regions, has given me a clear conviction that people are against this. Turkey has had enough of these problems.
So you believe secularism has taken strong roots in Turkey
Of course, unless some people again start misusing religious sentiments for political ends.
Let’s come back to how you define yourself.
I was born to Turkish parents. I was raised in a religious family; my father was a religious scholar and my mother was coming from a religious background. We practiced our religion in our family and I tried to raise my children in the same way. As a man who studied science, I also appreciate rationalism.
How does this religious affinity with a scientific approach reflect itself in your political views?
We need to do the same as many other societies. We have to observe certain traditions, we have to keep them, but at the same time we have to be open to modernization. We have to develop our society socially, economically, and industrially. I don’t think there is any incompatibility between science and religion, between Islam and democracy. This country stands for the compatibility of these two values. Of course there are certain schools of thought that say we do not, but I am one who stands for that compatibility.
Provided that they remain as separate domains.
I don’t think this is a matter of discussion, because this is a principle in our Constitution. Some people challenge this, but generally everybody seems to agree.
How would you describe yourself then? A modern conservative?
I don’t like labeling others, so I don’t think I deserve to be labeled. I think my outlook and vision are wider than these compartmentalizing labels. I stand for a wider vision; I stand for much better relations between nations, between civilizations. I have organized many intercultural events. At the same time I should refer to a very important resolution - Resolution 1618 - which I managed to get passed through the United Nations Human Rights Council and General Assembly, in cooperation with [former U.S. Secretary of State] Hilary Clinton and [European Union Foreign Affairs Representative] Catherine Ashton. The resolution is on freedom of religion and fighting against fanaticism and intolerance, which is a major concern of our people because of the assault of Islamophobia coming from EU and Western countries. I did my best from 2005 to 2011 to negotiate with the European Union and the U.S. until we reached a consensus on that resolution.
There has been criticism that Turkey has shifted its axis from the West toward Islamic countries. How do you place Turkey with regard to the West and East?
Turkey stands at a unique place in the world, not only as a geography where East meets West, but as a country that encompasses both Asia and Europe. Turkey has been in constant relations with the West for centuries. Ottoman Turkey was a European country. Turkey was the first region where Islam met the West; Ottoman Turkey was the first country in the world to be in contact with modern European technology and science. So we have a long tradition of the encounter between East and West.
Politically, since the 1950s successive Turkish governments have confirmed their decision to join the EU. Turkey was one of the first countries to join the Council of Europe, NATO and the OECD, and a number of other European organizations. For me, Turkey’s destiny of being a part of and a partner of the European Union is one of the main objectives of Turkish foreign policy. Turkey should enhance its relations with Europe. But this does not mean that your relations with one continent are exclusive and you don’t built relations with others. Turkey has wider geostrategic interests with Russia, Eurasia, the Middle East, the wider Muslim world, Africa, Latin America, and the Far East. Turkey should have all these relations; this is not contradictory.
In Turkey, some bridges seem to be broken among certain parts of society. Tell us how you claim to be able to manage the polarization in Turkey. What makes you confident that you are the right person to achieve reconciliation?
First of all, this is what I have been doing all my life: Building bridges between East and West, between the Muslim world and the wider world - particularly the West - and I have been awarded for that internationally. It is also a matter of personality, a way of life, a way of thinking, about the way you deal with people. I am used to doing this. Thirdly, if you don’t have your personal agenda as your official agenda, if you don’t have your own political program to force through from the presidential position, then you can do it. But if you have a personal program and you have announced it, and you are saying that when you come to the presidency you will implement it, then that is polarization. This comes when you force your ideas on others.
But you are supported by political parties.
I have been put forward as a candidate by five political parties. In dealing with these parties I was very clear that I did not belong to any party. So I accepted being nominated as a candidate of a broad consensus. I have never been a member of any party.
While I was contemplating the proposal I contacted many friends, including those in the AKP who were very happy with the programs of the AKP in its last two terms. Many told me to join the race, saying “Turkey needs you.”
You claim to be loyal to the parliamentary system. Would that make you a largely symbolic president?
The presidency is not a place of improvisation. It is not a place of exercising your own opinion, it is the highest place in the structure of the state. Everything should be according to the Constitution. The Constitution defines Turkey as a parliamentary regime and Turkey has been based on this parliamentary regime since the first days of the republic.
But every president has interpreted the Constitution differently. What will be your personal mark?
My personal mark will be in interpreting and implementing the Constitution in the proper way, by not siding with any political party as the head of the state and the nation. It will be to represent the totality of the nation.
But would that make you a passive president?
The president can exercise power through the law and the Constitution. The president will have two powers: The power given to him by the existing Constitution and the power given to him by the direct vote. This means the president can play a proactive role as a referee, by not interfering in government affairs. But of course he can orient them, advise them about bringing political parties together on the table when there is a crisis.
The new president will be elected by the people, so he will have at least 50 percent of the vote. We are aiming to win in the first round and we are targeting 55 percent. But if you get there with 55 or even 60 percent there will still be 40 to 45 percent who did not vote for you. You should go to the presidency as the representative of 76 million people. You have to be the head of all of them without bias.
Speaking of representing everybody; suppose I am a Kurd, how would you convince me to vote for you? I am afraid the peace process might be obstructed if the CHP and the MHP were to gain the upper hand.
I understand what you are expressing. My opinion on this is very clear: We should have the peace process continuing successfully, provided that it is done under the roof of the Parliament. I believe that we Turks and Kurds have been living together for at least one millennium. It is in our genes that we belong to the same civilization and destiny. As we are approaching the European Union, we have to implement the highest standards of human rights and freedom in our country. This would help ease the problem. What happened in the 1980s was a big mistake, as we tried to solve every problem with heavy sticks. We have to change our way of dealing with problems.
But the Kurds might feel that the process will not advance under the roof of Parliament with all the polarization, and there will be a cacophony.
If you have dialogue then you don’t have a cacophony. You have a cacophony if you have a monologue.
Talking about the European Union, do you believe that Turkey has been underestimating EU reforms? Do you feel the need to push for the EU agenda?
There is a clear need to push it forward. At the same time, we also need to have better understanding from our European friends. I know what Europe stands for and what Europe expects from Turkey. We need to work more for better understanding, not for confrontational positions.
What is your view about the criticism that says the Turkish government has been supporting radical Islamists in Syria and Iraq?
Throughout my career I have been criticizing radical movements. They are calamities for nations and for Islam at large. Sectarianism is great mistake. Using radicalism for establishing your own ideas by killing people is unacceptable. We should all refrain from this. Any radical group that might help you to achieve a certain position cannot give you its allegiance forever, it can turn against you. So the way out is to not side with anybody, to shun the radicals. We need moderation as a guiding rule in our societies. We have to stand for both moderation and modernization.
Would you have any special priority as president?
Women and young people need more attention. The issue of women needs attention because despite Turkey being comparatively more advanced than other Muslim countries there is still a long way to go to empower women in societies and to address the malaise of centuries of bad traditions such as young marriages. The young generations also need more care; they need to be brought up with a love for their country but at the same time they should be open to the future.
One point I want to underline is that I have been in touch with many people and they are looking for three things: Peace, stability and change. There is a fatigue of repeated discourses, repeated positions, and with this fatigue they want change.
Who is Ekmeleddin İhsanoglu ?
Dr. Ekmeleddin İhsanoglu is a Turkish academic, diplomat and former Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
After taking office as the ninth OIC Secretary General in January 2005, he coordinated the preparations, drafting, adoption and implementation of an essential “reform” program, aiming to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the 57-member organization.
İhsanoglu served from 1980 to 2004 as the founding Director General of the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA), an intergovernmental research center and subsidiary organ of the OIC
He was born to a Turkish family on Dec. 26, 1943 in Cairo, Egypt, where he later studied science at the Ain Shams University, receiving his B.Sc in 1966. He obtained his M.Sc in 1970 from Al-Azhar University and his PhD from the Faculty of Science at Ankara University in 1974. He conducted his post-doctoral research and studies at the U.K.'s Exeter University from 1975 to 1977.
İhsanoglu has published a number of books, articles and papers in different languages on science, the history of science, and relations between the Muslim world and the West.