The upcoming election of the first president directly elected by universal suffrage in Turkey is making headlines nowadays. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been campaigning for almost seven months, starting with the local elections. He has the self-confidence of a political leader who has won all the contests he has participated in since 1994. He also enjoys very large popular support due to successful governance over the last 12 years. He is poised to easily win these elections – maybe in the first round, but almost surely at the end.
The fact that the president will be chosen through two rounds of direct voting for the first time in Turkey is much more than a simple electoral reform. This is a very sound step towards establishing a fully functioning democratic regime, instead of the "dirigiste" nomenclature that took the reins of the state apparatus after the coup d'état of 1960.
Opinion polls recently carried out point to an interesting evolution: Candidates who campaign for a "political" presidency, taking advantage of a political program, secure much greater support than their traditional voters. This is the case of Prime Minister Erdoğan, but also the case of Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chair of the Kurdish movement's Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). On the other hand, the "joint" candidate of the two main opposition parties, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, fails to secure the support of the totality of the voters of both parties, at least as shown by the polls. His relative failure in opinion polls derives from the fact that basically he advocates the continuation of the previous "presidency" system, whereas a large majority of the population finds this "dirigiste nomenclature" type of democracy repulsive.
Turkey has never really had a representative democracy. The multiparty system under the Republic was really established only after 1946 and interrupted by the coup d'état in 1960. The system after 1961 was seemingly a bi-cameral parliamentarian regime, with a mostly honorific presidency. First, the Senate was turned into a "chamber of nominees" instead of an upper chamber. It was then completely abrogated after the coup in 1980. Parliament and the government had to work for more than 40 years under the shadow of an all-mighty National Security Council (MGK), made up of an equal number of ministers and Army generals. We had to wait for 30 years for a "civilian" president to be elected. In 2001, the outburst between President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit ignited the deepest financial crisis in Turkey's history.
The opponents of a president as a "political leader" often say that such a system is anti-democratic. How a democratic system where every five years the elected president has to ask for a new mandate through universal suffrage can be seen as "non-democratic" remains a total mystery. Anyhow, France, which has had a similar presidential and bi-cameral system since 1959, enjoys a very lively and stable democracy.
Since 2002, Turkish society has supported every opening towards a better functioning, directly controllable democratic system. It is thus not a mystery that the electorate will support a "presidential" system rather than a hybrid kind of dirigisme. It is also not a surprise that a popular and visionary leader will also be supported by a large majority in these upcoming elections.