Prime Minister Erdogan is now president. Can he bridge the country’s political divide?
In the midst of chaos reigning in their neighbourhood, the Turkish electorate went for the second time to the polls this year on August 10. In the first direct election of a president and with a participation rate of 75 per cent, the electorate lent a decisive victory to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan from the Justice and Development Party (AKP). He received just about 52 per cent votes, though falling somewhat short of the 55 to 60 per cent range that opinion polls were predicting. The outcome, and the run up itself, are significant for Turkey and its future.
Traditionally, presidents were elected by members of the Turkish parliament and enjoyed limited powers. However, Erdogan has been aspiring for a strong presidency since the AKP won close to half the votes at the national elections in June 2011. While serving as prime minister, Erdogan attempted to write a new constitution, but resistance from opposition parties, together with the May 2013 Gezi Park protests and the December 2013 corruption scandal, prevented him from achieving his goal. Consequently, his fallback plan has been to emerge triumphant from the 2014 presidential election and then use the presidential powers in the current constitution to the full extent and aim to get the AKP to emerge from the parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2015 with enough seats, enabling him to see to the adoption of a new constitution. This new constitution would transform Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential one and offer Erdogan the possibility of running the country until 2023, the republic’s centenary.
Erdogan’s opponents were Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and Selahattin Demirtas. The left-leaning secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the rightwing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) joined forces to support Ihsanoglu’s candidacy. Ihsanoglu, born and raised in Cairo, a prominent religious scholar, and a former secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, was seen as the best candidate to attract votes from former AKP members, and the wider conservative electorate. Though he lacked political experience and visibility in Turkey, he managed to receive more than 38 per cent of votes, going beyond poll predictions. Although his performance falls short of the 44 per cent that the CHP and MHP garnered at the local elections in March this year, it nevertheless demonstrates his potential as a candidate.
Demirtas, a prominent figure amongst Turkey’s Kurdish minority population and a keen partner in government efforts to find a political solution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey, ran for presidency on a secular and somewhat leftist agenda, especially sensitive to the interests of minorities continued…