Erdogan declares his presidential candidacy

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) announced Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as its candidate in the first presidential election by public vote.

al-monitor Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets Justice and Development Party (AKP) members before he is named as his party's candidate for the country's first direct presidential election, in Ankara, July 1, 2014..

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turkey, recep tayyip erdogan, presidential elections, kurds, kemal kilicdaroglu, chp, akp

Jul 1, 2014

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be running for president, as expected, in the August election, the first presidential election by public vote. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) kick-started the official campaign of Erdogan’s presidency on July 1 with a well-organized meeting in Ankara that had more than 4,000 invitees in attendance.

Despite the 2013 Gezi protests where people hit the streets expressing discontent with Erdogan’s governing style and where police disproportionate use of tear gas and water cannon, and despite his and his government’s name coming under a gigantic corruption and bribery scandal, Erdogan said he has never followed policies to divide or polarize people.

“We imagined a Turkey where 77 million people become brothers. We never polarized the people. We did not do the same things done to us in the past. Pay attention to the result of the March 30 local elections. AKP is present in all of Turkey’s provinces,” he said. “But you look at other political parties, they are all local. Some are representatives of a certain ethnic group, others have remained representing only those living on the beach. But the AKP is everywhere. We did not reject, or deny. We haven’t insisted on assimilating people to look like us.”

Erdogan argued that he had liberated the country since coming to power, and said his election as president would seal the end of old Turkish political order. Although the presidency is considered mostly a ceremonial office, Erdogan has proposed that a president elected with the people’s vote should automatically have more authority to shape the country’s domestic and foreign affairs. In fact, Erdogan insists that the country needs to change its parliamentary system into a presidential one — unique to Turkey — that would have some resemblance to the US presidential system.

The opposition, however, strongly argues that Erdogan’s style in the past decade has torn down the checks-and-balances system. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said in his party’s parliamentary group meeting that if Erdogan gets elected, Turkey will be disgraced before the world. “One who does not believe the separation of powers should not be a candidate for the president. One who says, 'Parliament is just an impediment for me,' should not be the candidate for presidency. One who slaps his own citizen, or tells a farmer (using slang terminology) to 'take his mother and go' should not be a candidate for president. We will be disgraced before the world. One who divides us as 'we' and 'them' should not be a president,” Kilicdaroglu said July 1. “One who preaches to young people 'not to forget about revenge' (for past grievances) should not be a candidate for president. One who does not believe in the rule of law should not be a candidate for the president. Justice is a very honorable concept. If you see it as an impediment, you should not be a candidate for the president. If so, this promises future problems.”

Kilicdaroglu also stressed that Erdogan lied to and misled the public, particularly since the Gezi Park protests began, with claims that more than 100 men assaulted a woman wearing a headscarf along with a 6-month-old baby; Kilicdaroglu indicated that Erdogan had used religion to cover his corruptness. At the same time, Kilicdaroglu referred to Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu — the joint candidate of the CHP and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) — as representing the best of all these values, and said the people should choose wisely whom they want to see in this highest office of the country.

There is nothing new in these arguments. Adil Gur, head of the Istanbul-based A&G public opinion research firm, told Al-Monitor, however, that the electorate is not responding well to negative campaigning by the opposition holding Erdogan responsible in the corruption and bribery scandal; indeed, Erdogan triumphed in the March 30 local elections.

“Based on the results of the last local elections, if the same amount of people come out to vote, it is unlikely that this election will be decided in the first round,” Gur said. After the controversial parliamentary appointment of Abdullah Gul to the presidency in 2007, the AKP changed the law so that the people directly elect their president. To win in the first round of voting on Aug. 10, a candidate must win a majority. If no one wins a majority, then the top two vote getters meet in an Aug. 24 runoff. “If fewer people come out to vote, it is, however, very likely that Erdogan can win in the first round. That being said, he still will win this election no matter what, as the opposition has failed to play its cards right.”

Gur argues that the opposition’s joint candidate, Ihsanoglu, is not a well-known or popular name in the country, and that he is running against Erdogan, who is well-known by all inside and outside the country. “This is all about perception management. The AKP put on a successful show today in declaring Erdogan’s candidacy, while the opposition put forth a very poor image when declaring their candidate. Moreover, they should not have picked a candidate chosen only by a few selected people in both parties. They should have put out a few names in the public arena to test how people react to them,” Gur told Al-Monitor. “There are, however, now some deputies in the CHP who don’t feel comfortable with their candidate; the base is also having a similar reaction. It is possible that they may choose to stay home in protest of their party’s selection process.”

In the meantime, pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party co-chair Selahattin Demirtas has also filed his candidacy for the presidency. Although he has little hope of succeeding, he may grab votes from the protesting constituency. Moreover, Erdogan is considered to be vying for the Kurdish votes, and it is all a big question mark whether the Kurdish electorate will vote as a bloc.

Dogu Ergil, a professor at Ankara University well-known for his decadeslong studies of the Kurdish question, told Al-Monitor that although the AKP might be managing perceptions well in pointing to Erdogan as the solution to the Kurdish issue and saying that his presidency would bring about a successful finalization of this process, no one man can be the guarantee of resolving the Kurdish issue on his own.

“It is still unclear to us what the road map and the final result of this resolution process is,” Ergil said. “Erdogan argues that the country is not capable of resolving the issue under the parliamentary system, and therefore we need a change in the system to a presidential one. These are all subjective and ambiguous arguments in the absence of rallying the opposition parties, nongovernmental organizations, academicians and so on, making them all stakeholders in this process." He said there has been no dialogue with the public, and plenty of dialogue behind the scenes. "None of this exists in today’s practice, but there are aplenty behind closed doors. This process should have been transparent. And with the difficult terrain in Iraq and Syria, the Kurdish issue has long become a Middle Eastern issue. It’s hard to find a local solution to it now.”

While time will show how people will decide in August, a potential Erdogan win would open questions about the AKP’s future, starting with who would lead the party. In the Ankara beltway, there were two outstanding names being discussed today: Ahmet Davutoglu, the foreign minister, and Binali Yildirim, the former transportation and communications minister. Although Yildirim’s name is stressed as the more likely provisional prime minister until the general elections, none of the potential names might be in Erdogan’s pocket — yet.

And if Erdogan wins the presidential election, the opposition will hopefully take this as yet another opportunity to reorganize their parties and consider a change in their leadership before the runup to the general elections, now expected to be held in fall 2014. In any case, the outcome of the August presidential election will, at the least, show how the country will be shaping its politics for the next five years.

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