Ambiguities persist as presidential polls looms

As the presidential election process begins, uncertainties persist as to who will be nominated by political parties and whether the incumbent President Abdullah Gül will seek another term.

The results of the local elections have demonstrated that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s aspirations for being elected president are on shaky ground, despite initial optimistic remarks to the contrary by pro-government media about Erdoğan’s chances.

For the first time, a president will be elected by the votes of people in Turkey, a parliamentarian democracy where presidents were elected by Parliament in the past.

As per law, the presidential election must be held in the 60 days before incumbent President Abdullah Gül’s term in office ends on Aug. 28.

Gül, who is known to be election for a second time, told reporters during a recent visit to Kuwait that, regarding his and Erdoğan’s candidacy for president, neither of them will take a step without informing the other. He also added that the issue would be clearer by the end of April or the beginning of May.

As the presidential elections quickly take their place on the country’s agenda so soon after the controversial local elections of March 30, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has announced that his party is ready to cooperate with other opposition parties to jointly nominate a presidential candidate.

Though Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli repeatedly said during the local election campaign that Erdoğan would be voted out of power by 51 percent of voters — taken as a sign that the MHP would perhaps also agree on a common candidate — Bahçeli dismissed the possibility of cooperation with the CHP in a statement he gave to the Habertürk daily on Friday. “We will not nominate a common candidate with the CHP,” Bahçeli told Habertürk, adding, “We will nominate our own candidate.”

In his statement, Bahçeli implied that the CHP would have difficulty choosing a candidate in the first place because of the various factions within the party. “If we were to take up this issue with the CHP, with whom are we going to take it up?” Bahçeli asked. But the MHP leader underlined that his party would nominate a presidential candidate that would also appeal to voters on the left.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç believes, based on the results of the local elections held last Sunday, that a ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) candidate would get more than half the votes in the first round of presidential elections. “I believe we can easily obtain 51 percent [of the vote] in the first round,” Arınç said on the NTV network on Friday.

Maintaining that the path to the presidential palace is open for a candidate from the AK Party, Arınç implied that current President Abdullah Gül would not take any steps to challenge Erdoğan should the prime minister decide to run for president. “If our prime minister wants to become a candidate, in my opinion, Gül would respect Erdoğan’s decision,” Arınç said.

If no candidate manages to receive more than half the votes in the first round, the two candidates with the highest number of votes in the first round will compete in a second round to be held on Aug. 24. In the second round, the candidate who receives the most votes will become president.

To become a candidate in the presidential race, one needs to be at least 40 years old and have a university degree. To be nominated as a candidate, they also need to be proposed by at least 20 deputies via a written proposal to the office of the Speaker of Parliament.

Candidates running for president are not allowed to accept financial aid from foreign states, international institutions, corporate bodies or from natural persons who are not Turkish citizens. Financial assistance in the form of donations given to candidates by a single person cannot exceed the salary of the highest-ranking civil servant.

For the first time, Turks living abroad will also vote in the presidential election. They are likely to cast their votes between July 31 and Aug. 3 at Turkish consulates and embassies overseas.

Although the AK Party’s Arınç believes a candidate from the ruling party can easily win the presidential election given that the AK Party received 43 percent of the vote in last Sunday’s local elections, Erdoğan cannot expect a problem-free path to the top post, even with support he may safely assume to be receiving from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

This is because the votes received by the ruling party in the local elections may actually be a few percentage points lesser than announced based on unofficial figures, judging from serious claims of rigging during the elections.

The BDP, together with the left-wing People’s Democracy Party (HDP), its sister party which represented it in Turkey’s western provinces in the recent elections, received 6.6 percent of the vote in the local elections.

Erdoğan is seeking to receive 50-plus percent of the vote and become president in the first round of the presidential election to be held on Aug. 10 as he is aware that his chances of success would be strikingly lower in a second round of voting, considering that the opposition parties are almost sure to unite around a common candidate against Erdoğan in the second round.

At first glance, one might believe Erdoğan might manage to receive more than half of the votes in the first round, given that he may also receive considerable support from sympathizers of the Felicity Party (SP), the Grand Unity Party (BBP) and the Free Cause Party (Hüda-Par), a Kurdish Islamist party. The SP received 2.8 percent of the vote in the local elections, with the BBP receiving 1.6 percent and Hüda-Par only receiving less than 0.5 percent.

Counted together with those of the AK Party, all these votes make up almost 55 percent of all the valid votes cast in the local elections, putting Erdoğan as a favorite in the presidential elections.

But for a more balanced judgement, one needs to look at the debit side of Erdoğan’s account. For one thing, it is not all that realistic to expect, except possibly in the case of AK Party voters, that all those who voted for the above-mentioned parties to also vote for Erdoğan in the presidential elections.

What makes the picture cloudier for Erdoğan are the dozens of serious claims of rigging by opposition parties in the local elections. In some cases, opposition parties have already, following a plea for recount of votes, seen an increase in their votes in provinces such as Yalova. So, all those claims of rigging lead one to think that the ruling party’s votes in local elections may well actually be less than 40 percent, although it is now, based on unofficial figures, nearly 44 percent.

The above two facts may be the reason why some people close to Erdoğan are, the rumor has it, advising him not to run for president. Because, if Erdoğan fails to get elected to Turkey’s top post, he would have also lost a chance to continue as prime minister, as he would have to resign to be a candidate in the presidential race.

The pro-Kurdish BDP, which got 4.6 percent of the vote, would most possibly agree to offer support to Erdoğan in return for some steps — as part of the settlement process the government launched at the end of 2012 — that would pave the way for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey’s southeast.

But it would also be safe to assume that a portion, although small, of BDP voters — a major portion of which are on the left wing of the political spectrum — may be reluctant to vote for Erdoğan, a conservative and Islamist figure. The amount of voters who would not vote for Erdoğan should be expected to be higher in the HDP, the BDP’s sister party, as HDP voters, who are strongly left-wing, would not probably like to see Erdoğan as president.

Even among voters of parties such as the SP and the BBP, which are both conservative and religious parties, one may safely expect that there would be a significant number of people who would not vote for Erdoğan, as the prime minister and his family are confronted with serious claims of corruption since a probe was launched on Dec. 17 of last year.

A jointly nominated presidential opposition candidate who would also appeal to conservative voters would most certainly get substantial support from sympathisers of parties such as the SP and the BBP.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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