On August 10, 2014, for the first time in modern Turkey’s history, the president will be elected by the public instead of by the parliament. This will bring a new dynamic to politics and significantly alter decision-making processes in the executive bodies. This will not be the only major change in the Turkish political scene; as the three- term Prime Minister Erdogan officially announced his candidacy for the presidential elections, both the ruling AK Party and the role of the presidency in Turkish political life is likely to undergo a shift.
Opposition is polarized
Even though some Turkey-watchers like to dream Erdogan may not drum up enough public support to step up in Çankaya (the Presidential residence), it is best to see and comment on the real picture rather than a fantasy.
After the presidential elections and the possible election of Erdogan as the Turkish president, we will not step into a world of a deeply polarized Turkey.Ceylan Ozbudak
We have heard the voices chanting “Erdogan will be crushed” when he was first elected by his party as Prime Minister, then again both during and after the Gezi protests and yet again in the most recent municipal elections as well as several times in between. With the subsiding tensions and decreasing polarization in society, Erdogan - being the strongest candidate in the elections - will probably be elected as the 12th President of Turkey. This has brought about a deeply polarized opposition in Turkey; while the majority of the main opposition party supports their leader’s idea of going into the presidential elections with a joint candidate along with the nationalist right wing party, voting for a right wing candidate seems like death for many old-school Leftists. The ultra-secularist wing inside the CHP sounds ready to oust their own leader for making concessions from the party's traditional ideology; but who can blame Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu for trying to bring the party at least one electoral victory even if this means crippling the Turkish left forever.
The realistic Turkey of Erdogan’s era
When Erdogan first became the Prime Minister and Abdullah Gül rose to Çankaya as President, the screams in the international community were making us Turks wake up every morning to check whether or not the military or NATO had intervened and toppled the “POTENTIAL totalitarian government, which will bury Turkey in the darkness of Middle Ages” as many ultra- secularists and European journalists said at the time.
However, the AK Party's domestic and foreign policy over the last 12 years proved to have planned a vision to the contrary. Still today, many international observers and foreign journalists like to draw attention to Erdogan’s “one minute” in Davos, the harsh criticism of Western policies towards Turkey or standing in solidarity with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after Sisi’s coup, it was the same Erdogan who was shunned and criticized by the very same Muslim Brotherhood because he promoted and insisted on a secular-democratic constitution for Egypt, who advised them to start wearing suits and ties if they want to be taken seriously as politicians and who sent a democratization package to Bashar Assad right before the U.S. denounced him as an illegitimate leader.
It has been Erdogan’s era, when Turkey drew closest to the EU. Erdogan personally paid 125 official visits to Europe, 14 visits to the U.S. and increased the trade volume of Turkey and the countries he visited by 354%. Turkey worked hard to strengthen ties with Europe but also for the first time in modern Turkish history, learned to treat the geography it lives as a faraway land. Before Erdogan, for ‘White Turks’, the Middle East consisted of Israel. Arabs had been deleted from Turkey’s reality, pushed away. In Turkish schools, many Western languages were thought to students but despite our long borders with the Arab neighbors, Turkey had few Arabic speakers. It was a cliché to call Turkey a bridge between East and West but Turkish feet would almost never touch Arab lands. Erdogan did not totally pivot to East but placed Turkey’s reality in where it is located, in the middle.
England’s Thatcher, Turkey’s Erdogan
Erdogan came to power in a very complex and difficult political environment for Turkey. For my Western readers to get a better feeling, I can compare the pre-Erdogan economy of Turkey to pre-Thatcher England. While pre-Thatcher London is often remembered for its industrial strikes, piled- up garbage on the streets and unburied dead, pre-Erdogan Istanbul (as a Mayor) can also be remembered as a weary, dirty and grey city along with constant water and power outages. Just as how Thatcher restored the British economy and gave ordinary people a stake in it, the AK Party also restored the exhausted Turkish economy and created thousands of small businesses, while opening up Turkish industries to emerging markets in the vicinity.
The privatization program of Margret Thatcher allowed the deregulation of the British economy and created an atmosphere of free market entrepreneurship; similarly, Erdogan’s privatization program helped a free market economy to settle in Turkey and made Turkey the industrial center of the Middle East. Also in foreign policy matters, we can compare and find similarities between the two eras. When Thatcher came to power, the world was reforming outside England: The Iranian regime as we know it today emerged in her time and Ayatollah Khomeini came to power after the deposition of the Shah. Erdogan also came to power in a very turbulent Middle East after decades of relative quiet. There are however, stark differences between Thatcher and Erdogan's ideas among the publics of the two countries. While Thatcher remains a controversial and polarizing figure for the majority of the Britons and British politicians, both the Turkish public and the political scene seems to have reconciled with Erdogan after a rocky year in 2013 and his period in the Prime Minister’s office is already set to be remembered as one which transformed, uplifted and renovated Turkey.
The system shift to semi-presidential democracy
The members of the AK Party have already stated very clearly that they will remain loyal to Erdogan. Therefore, whoever becomes the leader of the AK Party after the elections, that name would cooperate and collaborate with Erdogan and there will not be a crack in the party soon. By the election of Erdogan, as many speculate, Turkey’s political system is expected to slowly come to resemble a semi-presidential system; I am not saying a presidential system because the existing constitutional system is not prepared for such a shift at the moment. Moreover, the existing system already gives the president some executive powers; none of the presidents have been much interested in using them so far, thus it doesn’t need to change.
According to the 1982 constitution of Turkey, the president is equipped with much authority, enough for Erdogan to influence politics from the outside but leave the executive powers to the Prime Minister and the cabinet. The semi-presidential system option on the other hand is not desired by the public but is voiced by governmental authorities probably due to an erroneous thinking that Turkey is as stable as EU countries. Such systems exist in Europe, and France in particular has been an example of a practical semi-presidential system since Charles De Gaulle. De Gaulle, due to his character and style, was very much a hands -on politician – if not more so - than Erdogan today is. In the 1960s, the French electoral system allowed the public to elect the French President and De Gaulle enhanced his rights in office piece by piece and transformed the French political system in to what we see today. I have to remind one more time, the parliamentarian system is the appropriate form of governance for countries like Turkey.
After the presidential elections and the possible election of Erdogan as the Turkish president, we will not step into a world of a deeply polarized Turkey. On the contrary, we will see the conservative Turkish politicians making peace with the Turks, working towards a reality rather than trying to apply the former official ideology, which alienates us from the geography we actually live in and a political left, which more resembles center right. Turkey will be making peace with its past and its future with various religious groups, non-religious communities, ultr- secular elites and Middle Eastern neighbors.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak