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Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, finally has a challenger in August’s presidential elections. The main opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Action Party (MHP), just announced an agreement to nominate the former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, as their joint presidential candidate.
İhsanoğlu recently completed two terms as Secretary General of OIC. He was previously put forward as a candidate for this position by the AKP in 2004 and became the first Turkish citizen elected to serve as Secretary General of the organization established in 1969. Prior to his election, OIC secretary generals were simply appointed by the membership. At the OIC, he left behind a legacy of advocacy for greater democracy, human rights, and women’s participation in public space.
The opposition hopes Ihsanoğlu’s conservative credentials and status as an accomplished scholar of Islam will draw voters alienated from AKP, while winning liberal hearts and minds with his commitment to secularism and pluralist democracy. In addition, Ihsanoğlu is well respected in the
Arab and Muslim world and speaks fluent Arabic, as he was born and raised in Cairo to Turkish parents.
What are Ihsanoğlu’s chances of getting elected? The short answer is slim but his candidacy will undoubtedly alter the dynamics of the presidential elections.
For the first time in the history of Turkish democracy, voters will go to the ballot box in August to directly elect a president. If no candidate receives over 50 percent of votes, there will be a runoff election between the top two contenders, in which the candidate who receives a plurality of votes, will become the first elected president of Turkey and serve a term of five years.
Traditionally, former presidents were elected by the Turkish parliament and performed ceremonial duties with some limited, but important executive powers. These powers included: the signing of new legislation into law, appointing members to state bodies such as the Higher Education Board, and approving appointments of top bureaucratic positions. Ihsanoğlu is likely to be a candidate content with such a presidential profile.
In contrast, Erdoğan has made it quite clear that he wants a presidency with much stronger executive powers and a weakened prime minister, somewhat similar to the system in Russia. After a landslide victory at the national elections in 2011, Erdoğan announced his preference for Parliament to adopt a new constitution with a stronger presidency. Erdoğan failed to muster the votes necessary to get a new constitution through the parliament due to resistance from within his own political party and the opposition. Adverse publicity following last summer’s Gezi Park protests in Istanbul and corruption scandal allegations in December were additional factors complicating the exercise.
Nevertheless, the AKP’s success in securing 46 percent of votes during the March 2014 mayoral elections, 15 points ahead of their continued…