A New Era in Turkish Politics
While this article is being written, we still don’t have the official results of the firstever presidential elections of Turkey. However, most of the major public opinion polls demonstrated that Prime Minister Erdoğan will win another major electoral victory in the first round of elections to become the first popular elected president of the Turkish Republic. Erdoğan’s relative ease in winning this very important election was due to the combination of several factors, including a successful presidential campaign, the failure of opposition parties, and the candidates’ inability to come up with an appealing alternative and message to voters, especially after emerging from despair and hopelessness among the opposition parties in the aftermath of the March 30th local elections.
For instance, the campaign slogan of the opposition candidate was interpreted as disconnected from the demands of a rapidly growing middle class in the country.
As a result of these factors and on the contrary to expectations, Turkey had a rather dull electoral campaign for presidency. Other than Erdoğan, the other candidates did not spend a lot of time campaigning and organizing rallies. Again, contrary to the election-hardened and experienced Erdoğan, the candidate of the major opposition parties did not have either the experience or the strategy to win in the elections, and he could not capture the grassroots support and mobilization of the voters of the Ak Party. Moreover, the polls show that he will most likely receive fewer votes than the total of the opposition party votes in the last local election.
This situation will facilitate a new and more transparent primary election process for the nomination of presidential candidates, especially for the opposition candidates, in the next elections, ensuring the participation of the party’s grassroots, mobilize the party sympathizers and attract voters. In the absence of this process, a candidate determined behind closed doors by the leaders of opposition parties will bound to fail again. In fact, if the polls turn out to be successful in predicting the election results, and if opposition loses another election against the AK Party candidate, they have to start seriously thinking about the future of their political parties and strategies against the AK Party.
If the results will be similar to the opinion polls, what will come next in the Turkish political scene? First of all, Erdoğan’s electoral victory will change the political system in Turkey, and potentially create a new dynamism in Turkish politics by creating two active executive bodies in the government. Although some in Turkey have been expecting a prime minister who will be ceremonial with Erdoğan’s presidency, the new prime minister and his staff cannot afford to be figureheads if they want to keep the same majority in the parliament in the next general election.
This new experience for Turkish democracy will also usher in a new set of norms to coordinate between the prime ministry and presidency. Turkish public opinion experienced the coalition crises in the 1990s, and punished all of the major political parties that created deadlocks and crises in the system by eliminating them from the political scene through elections. Because of that, Erdoğan and the new prime minister and cabinet will have to establish a working relationship to run the politics and economy of the country efficiently as well as to win the next elections. Although it is very likely that an Erdoğan presidency and an AK Party government will transition smoothly to the new system, the norms and procedures that they develop will determine the future conduct of the executive authority.
There are many issues that Erdoğan, as president and a new prime minister needs to address after the elections. In the aftermath of the presidential election, regardless of the timing of the next general election, Erdoğan and his team have to initiate delayed political reforms that many in Turkey have been waiting for. The top of this list includes drafting a new, more democratic, open and pluralistic constitution that responds to the demands and concerns of the citizens. The individual reform packages have been necessary, but insufficient to resolve the deep structural problems in the Turkish political system. In particular, the goals in terms of democratization that Erdoğan put forward in his vision statement raise the expectations among many in Turkey, and because of that, crafting a new civilian constitution has to be the priority of Erdoğan’s agenda.
This article was first published in Daily Sabah on August 11, 2014.