Turkey: Early elections in the autumn?

With less than a month to go before the presidential elections, the indications are that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is already close to securing victory in the first round.

The gap between Erdoğan and Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the joint candidate for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), seems far too wide, and the high number of undecided voters has caused concern within the opposition camp, raising fears of a low turnout.

A fresh poll conducted jointly by pollsters Anar, Pollmark, Genar and Denge appears to indicate a sufficient lead for Erdoğan.

According to the figures presented by Abdülkadir Selvi in the pro-government Yeni Şafak daily, Erdoğan leads by 54.6 percent. İhsanoğlu is at 38.1 percent, and Selahattin Demirtaş, candidate of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), remains at the traditional level: 7.3 percent. These findings are based on the distribution of undecided voters, which is 13.5 percent.

Selvi’s report claims that 5 percent of CHP supporters, 17 percent of MHP supporters and 9 percent of HDP supporters say they might swing their votes to Erdoğan.

KONDA, a generally reliable independent pollster, does not disagree with these findings. Its president, Bekir Ağırdır, wrote yesterday on the T24 news portal that Erdoğan is indeed close to a win in the first election. His analysis is based on the prediction that around 2 million votes that had gone to the MHP in the local elections on March 30 might “come home” to Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and that around half of the 5 percent who voted for smaller parties without presidential candidates, plus most of the total 2.7 million votes abroad, might end up backing Erdoğan as well.

“If Erdoğan climbs the pedestal of the presidency with more than 55 percent of the vote, he will have a lot of power to choose the new chairman of the AKP and the prime minister. This referendum-like result will give him a strong mandate in addition to the eight consecutive elections so far,” Selvi commented.

Erdoğan’s goal is certainly that. Any vote achieved that comes close to the historic backing for the referendum in September 2010 could be a game-changer in Turkish politics.

The central opposition, composed chiefly of Kemalists and nationalists, is still in disarray. The Kurdish political movement stands firm among its established base. This indicates a likely win for the AKP in the first round of voting.

A strong victory raises the possibility of early parliamentary elections.

Erdoğan is aware that he is still faced with immense legal challenges, though they have lessened somewhat due to his dubious use of the AKP majority in Parliament to manipulate the law through a series of amendments and administrative measures in the bureaucracy and judiciary.

He knows that he needs to expand the AKP majority in Parliament so that he can — he hopes — reach a sufficient number of seats to amend the Constitution and establish a presidential system, demolishing what remains of the separation of powers.

Being elected by a large margin in the first round of the August elections would also cement his leadership to the point of absolute one-man rule in his party. The same conclusion might even apply if he wins by a 40-60 percent margin in the second round.

So, the likely plan is to declare elections sometime between October and December, followed by a party congress, which will surely pursue the “directions” given by Erdoğan. In such a scenario, President Abdullah Gül and the other “founding fathers” — or “party elders” — will lose more ground. Names such as Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu or AKP Deputy Chairman Numan Kurtulmuş may emerge as possible successors.

On the other hand, such a scenario will cause turmoil within the ruling party, changing its character and structure even further.

If he wins by less than 55 percent, a more complicated scenario will emerge. Debate in Turkey — on the theme of the “sharply divided society” — will become bitter, as Erdoğan will have to try harder to keep control of the party.

He may end up pushing through his “iron will” in appointments, but, since the option of early elections will mean a bigger gamble for his own future, he will have to look deeper into how much support he has from the Kurds. If he has sufficient support from the HDP and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) bloc in August, realizing that he is dependent on the “Kurdish reality,” Erdoğan might seek an alliance with the HDP in Parliament. But such a game will be at the expense of lost ground in the following elections.

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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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