A new president for Turkey

Published 02.07.2014 23:38

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has at last officially declared his candidacy for the supreme post of the Turkish Republic. If elected, he will become the 12th president and the first elected through universal suffrage. He has waited almost until the last moment to present his candidacy, mostly because of the governing structure he would like implemented, which would allow him to pull the strings of executive power while remaining at the top post of the state apparatus. The most debated (and still unknown) issue was finding his successor as premier. Any person that succeeds him will need to act delicately as prime minister after Erdoğan and his flamboyant style occupied the office for 12 consecutive years.

Important political leaders across the world have faced the same problem. When asked, General De Gaulle has answered questions about whom might succeed him and said, "there will not be a void at all, but an overload of candidates," which in fact has proven true. But in the case of Erdoğan, this is not a departure from a top executive post to a more honorific stature. Erdoğan made clear that he is not going to take a step back in political life and will not try to position himself "above political parties."

Such a position existed in fact mostly in theory. Practically no president of the Turkish Republic has positioned himself "above political parties" although this rhetoric was very often used. Up until 1960, the president could also remain as chairman of his political party. Starting from the first coup in May 27, 1960, presidents were chosen among retired (or retiring) generals or admirals exclusively. Especially after the coup d'état of 1980, the post of president was seen as a controlling mechanism over the elected executive, establishing a counterweight against the power of the prime minister and the government, by using the support of a very powerful National Security Council, where a parity between ministers and four-star generals was established. The 1980 coup, by abrogating the bicameral Turkish parliamentary system and dismantling the senate, effectively created a bizarre form of governance where the presidency of the Republic, together with the National Security Council, formed a kind of upper-chamber, mainly non-elected, to preside over the destiny of the country.

Up until the election of President Abdullah Gül in 2007 and the revision of the National Security Council functioning, this governance was in place and effective. Since, there has been no political problem between the president of the Republic and the prime minister. However, the prime minister did not devote any single sentence to the incumbent president and his long-standing companion in arms, Gül, throughout his long and important speech, which bodes not so well regarding speculation that Gül would become prime minister once Erdoğan takes up residence in Çankaya.

Erdoğan wants to reform the state apparatus. He says it loud and clear. He has also enumerated four important objectives: A solution to the Kurdish problem (which has been renamed as "consolidating national solidarity"), economic development, better democratic standards and full-membership in the EU. Hardly any step that could be seen as an "axis sliding," which was the term used to criticize his policy as a shift in Turkey's conventional regime and alliances...

The international conjuncture is putting enormous pressure on the Western alliance to close ranks, to collaborate very closely and to deepen political, economic and military ties. Erdoğan's choice in that sense can hardly be seen as surprising. Another issue where no surprise is to be expected is the resoluteness of the premier to fight against the "parallel organization," namely the Gülen Movement, where no truce should be expected either. Upcoming weeks and months will definitely give us a clear picture of the Turkish political scenery, especially if Erdoğan is tempted to organize anticipated parliamentary elections in view of his performance at the first round of presidential elections. He is extremely willing to sever all ties that have bounded the "parallel organization" to his political movement. He might also very well be thinking to organize a referendum on the Constitution, once a new Parliament is elected. Definitely, we are not getting over an electoral period soon even if Erdoğan gets elected in the first round on Aug. 10, 2014.

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