Turkish voters will go to the ballots on June 24 for both presidential and parliamentary elections. Since 2014, Turkey's system of electing the president of the republic has been deeply amended and restructured. Prior to that, basically since the inception of the republic in 1923, this was held as a secondary vote as Parliament would vote and chose a president for a seven-year term.The whole system though has changed gradually after 1961, when the presidency was made a mostly symbolic post, very much like the German system. The prime minister was made the head of the executive. But, this system worked until 1981 and presidential elections during the 20 years (between 1961 and 1981) could hardly be called smoothly working. Usually, retired army generals were chosen, Cemal Gürsel and Cevdet Sunay are the perfect examples. Then there was turmoil in 1973 when Fahri Korutürk, a retired admiral known for his liberal views, was elected by Parliament over two very influential retired generals, Faruk Gürler and Muhsin Batur.
The coup in 1980 changed the system again. The leader of the coup, Kenan Evren, was "elected" through a referendum/plebiscite which totally restructured the Constitution and gave the president important prerogatives, making a symbolic tenure into a paramount but diffuse and incomprehensible system of governance.
Two civilian presidents, both elected by Parliament, Turgut Özal and Süleyman Demirel, followed Evren. After Demirel's tenure, the coalition parties chose a former Justice Ahmet Necdet Sezer. He was a non-political person and his tenure was mostly uneventful.Starting with the election of Abdullah Gül, again through Parliament voting, the system was heavily obstructed by the old elite, which was against a first lady with a headscarf. The difficulties encountered by Gül's election (the former president's tenure was prolonged, without any legal ground, for a few months) gave the idea of direct presidential elections, which were accepted through a referendum.In 2014, the French system of two-round direct presidential elections was put in effect. The first time the Turkish electorate had to choose a candidate for president saw a large victory on the part of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who obtained more than 51 percent of the votes in the first round.
Opposition parties, with the notable exception of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which share a largely Kurdish voter base, did not understand the dynamics of the two-round elections then.
The French example shows clearly that political forces present their own candidates in the first round unless there has been a long-term political alliance among them. In 1974, Socialist and Communist parties had a single candidate, François Mitterrand, around a "common program for governance" between the two parties (and a tiny social-democratic force). They lost in the second round, against a brilliant liberal candidate, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, but on the tiniest difference of votes in a French presidential election.
In 2014 presidential elections in Turkey, opposition parties including the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), presented a no name, brilliant but unknown conservative academician, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, with no political background whatsoever, who failed to mobilize voters of both political movements. The other conservative but very well known, a gifted politician, Erdoğan has won the elections easily in the first round. The HDP, who were obtaining around 6 percent of the votes in other elections, got 9 percent, by understanding the inherent dynamics of the two-round elections.Unless there is a common ground between the political forces, a "joint candidate" in the first round is a very bad idea. Now for the forthcoming elections, three opposition parties, the CHP, the Good Party (İP) and the HDP will present their own candidates.President Erdoğan is looking for a second term, this time supported by a weakened MHP. He has a good chance of winning the elections in the first round; however, this will not be as easy as in 2014.
Now if a candidate does not get more than 50 percent of the votes cast in the first round, the top two candidates will go for the second round of voting. In that sense, it is essential for the electorate to choose the "least disruptive" of the two remaining candidates. Usually, there is always a real divide between the "left-leaning" voters and the "right-leaning" voters in the second round. If the right conservative and center-right voters are split, it gives a good chance to the challenger in the opposite camp. It was so in 1981 in France, which saw Mitterrand win the elections, mainly because the conservative Gaullist electorate was not mobilized enough in the second round for the liberal President Giscard d'Estaing.
What we will have to really scrutinize in the forthcoming presidential election is how well President Erdoğan can mobilize his supporters. In failing to do enough, the second round still looks favorable for the AK Party candidate. Though the first round results will be of prime importance, an election is never over before the last ballot is counted.
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