As the AK Party names Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as its candidate for president, Turkish politics enters a new era. For the first time in republican history, a president will be elected by popular vote. This will be a good thing for addressing such key issues as drafting a new constitution, resolving the Kurdish issue, accelerating the EU membership process, maintaining political stability and economic development and preparing Turkey for the first centennial of the founding of the Turkish Republic. A president taking the lead on such grand issues can be an asset for both the Parliament and the government. Erdoğan stands to assume this role as president.
Erdoğan has been the most successful political leader by both winning elections and forming strong governments. The March 30 local elections gave him another popular mandate. Despite judicial coup attempts, corruption allegations and the formation of a new anti-Erdoğan coalition, 45 percent of voters elected municipal candidates from Erdoğan's ruling party. Even though Erdoğan himself did not run for office, the elections turned into a vote of confidence for him. He won again with a decisive victory.
Polls suggest a similar outcome in the Aug. 10 presidential elections. His current support level is a little over 50 percent. It is certain to increase once he hits the campaign trail. It will not be a surprise if he wins in the first round with a comfortable margin.
The opposition parties' calculation seems to be based on a false premise. They seem to suppose that the 50 percent that did not vote for Erdoğan in the last general election will stand united against his run for president, and this will give their candidate the votes he needs. This is bad mathematics.
While the AK Party's 50 percent is solid and has the potential to go up a few points, there is no such block vote on the opposition side. The so-called"other 50 percent" is not a unified 50 percent but a collection of voters that will have several options, not one on Aug. 10. Judging from the 2011 general election results, it is comprised of several voting blocs: 26-27 percent for the CHP, 13-14 percent for the MHP, 6-7 percent for the BDP and the rest going to the undecided and swing voters. The BDP has already announced its own candidate, Selahattin Demirtaş. The hardcore secularists and neo-nationalists within the CHP have reacted to Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, their party's official candidate together with the MHP, with anger and frustration.
In short, Erdoğan has a solid and unified 50 plus percent behind him to start his campaign but his opponents have fragmented voting blocs before them.
If Erdoğan is elected, Turkey will have a strong president without a formal presidential system. The current constitution does not allow for a full-blown presidential system. But the powers of the president make it a hybrid political system. This needs to be understood properly.
First of all, the current political system in Turkey is a parliamentary democracy which gives considerable powers to the president such as ratifying or vetoing new laws, appointing members of the judiciary, university rectors, ambassadors, et cetera.
The current system gives too many powers to the president for a parliamentary democracy and yet too little for a presidential system. In theory, this model has the potential to create political crisis between the president and the government, as we saw during Ahmet Necdet Sezer's presidency from 2000 to 2007. But it is very unlikely that Erdoğan's presidency will cause any conflict with the ruling AK Party of which he is theuncontested leader. Furthermore, Erdoğan sees no conflict between being president and having a political-party identity.
Secondly, the popular mandate that will be given to the new president will make the office of the president more than just a ceremonial place. It will invest it with political meaning, function and force. Unlike the current system, the popularly elected president will be accountable to his voters and expected to deliver on his promises. This will require a much closer working relationship with the government. When used properly, this will be an additional checks-and-balances element for the executive power.
Last but not least, Erdoğan's style of leadership will undoubtedly shape the new presidency. Erdoğan has never been a half-time political player. As mayor, party chairman and prime minister, he has always been a strong leader. And as president, he will remain a strong political figure. There is no reason to doubt that the political stability and economic development that Turkey has enjoyed since 2003 will be consolidated under him as president.
This will be a good thing for keeping Turkey as an island of stability and an economic powerhouse in a region wrought with crises and challenges.