For the first time in history, Turkey is to elect its president through popular voting. In Turkey, the presidential office has had an important function in the bureaucratic and oligarchic state so far. Following the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d'état, presidential authority was expanded for the sake of Chief of the General Staff Kenan Evren, who headed this pro-coup junta. By this means, he tried to provide continuity of the coup, even if sovereignty was handed down to civilian authorities. A pro-coup Constitution was taken to a referendum and received 91.37 percent of affirmative votes. This high voting rate was interpreted as if the public supported the coup; however, it was quite the opposite in reality. The public displayed this prudential behavior to make coup-staging colonels turn back to their military posts as soon as possible for the normalization of the country. Had the pro-coup Constitution been rebuffed, the military most probably would not have withdrawn from power, and politics would not have returned to normalcy for many years to come.
One year after the Constitution was issued, the military decided to call a free election. However, they seized control of all media outlets as well as closing down all the previous parties and outlawing them. At this point, three new parties were established. Among them the Nationalist Democracy Party (MDP) was supported by the military. It was led by Turgut Sunalp, who hailed from the military. The Motherland Party (ANAP), which was headed by Turgut Özal, was the most civilian one among the available choices. Holding the presidential post, Kenan Evren was evidently intimidating Özal and appealing to the public to vote for the MDP. Evren was encouraged and almost took victory for granted, as the Constitution received a high percentage of votes. In this sense, ANAP was not promising at all for anyone. However, it received 45.4 percent of votes and had 211 MPs out of a total of 400 in Parliament. The MDP, which was the favorite among many in the pre-electoral period, came in third with 71 MPs, and it was embedded in history.
Apart from Özal's incumbency, the presidency has always functioned as a maintainer of the pro-tutelage system over governments. Even Süleyman Demirel, who was depoliticized in the 1980 coup d'état, came to the presidency in 1993 when Özal passed away and took an active role in the Feb. 28 post-modern coup process in 1997. He was succeeded by Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who had a juridical background, and he acted as if he was a state bureaucrat.
Before the 2007 presidential elections, political turmoil escalated like today. The president was to be elected by the members of Parliament, in a sense by the public, but the military came into play to stop the AK Party's candidate. Military-aided mass Republic rallies were held. A number of suspicious murders and massacres were witnessed in the same year. Finally, the military submitted an unyielding memorandum to the government. The government unprecedentedly lashed out against this memorandum. This time, supreme judicial bodies took to the stage and amended the presidential election system, which was totally contrary to the Constitution. As opposed to the old one, this new system entailed two thirds of valid votes instead of half of them. In other words, previously a quorum of 276 was required for the presidency, and this was increased to 367. This was an unmitigated crime of law and a coup, which was conducted by the Constitutional Court and backed by the opposition parties. Later on, the government called for a constitutional amendment, and it was agreed that the president would be elected by the public.
Passing through these hard times in the past, at this point where we stand now, Turkish society will elect its own president for the first time. Even if it is not promulgated officially, Erdoğan will run as a candidate for the presidency in all likelihood. The primary objective of the Dec.17 operation was to preclude Erdoğan from the presidency. If the AK Party had gone down below 40 percent in the March 30 local elections, most probably the operation would have attained its purpose. But, thanks to Erdoğan's unabated spurt, people smoothed the way for Erdoğan with 45.6 percent of votes.
However, the contention is not yet over. A section of so-called writers and intellectuals who address themselves as secular, democrat and liberal, are posing open threats against the legitimate leader Erdoğan to inactivate him. In the case that Erdoğan becomes a candidate and is elected, they claim a civil war will break out and hold Erdoğan responsible for it. I acknowledge it is very hard for our Western companions to make sense of this situation because, like every other Turkish citizen who fulfills the criteria for candidacy, Erdoğan is eligible to stand for the presidential election, and most probably he has the potential to be elected through the popular vote. Propagandas and constraints that are directed against exercising this democratic right are taken normally in this country. Those who pose these intimidations are so-called advocators of democracy and constantly complain about Turkey to the West. Democracy is still in the process of construction, and what we experience is not political conflict. It is rather a power struggle between people and privileged elites. That is why the public does not withhold their support from Erdoğan.