Turkey will witness its first popular vote based Presidential elections in August in order to elect its 11th President of the Republic. Turkish Prime Minister and the leader of Justice and Development Party (JDP) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the strong favorite before the elections. Polls show that Erdoğan might win the elections in the first round.
Although Turkish political system is based on parliamentarism, according to 1982 constitution there are important priviledges for the Presidency in addition to its historical and cultural prestige. Turkish President is also the supreme commander of Turkish Armed Forces and culturally it is an important duty for Turks who had a “army nation” mentality in the past centuries. Moreover, the President of the Republic has important duties considering appointments into state agencies, universities and legal bodies. Turkish political system envisages a post of Presidency more authoritative than symbolic and ceremonial duties assumed by other Presidents in parlamentarian systems. That is why, Turkish Presidential elections have always been important and open to crisis throughout the Republican history. It should not be forgotten that one of the reasons of the 12 September 1980 coup was the Parliament’s inability to elect a new President.
Starting from 1923 until now Turkey had 11 Presidents of the Republic. Among these, there are 6 generals (Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, İsmet İnönü, Cemal Gürsel, Cevdet Sunay, Fahri Korutürk and Kenan Evren), 2 civilians (Celal Bayar and Ahmet Necdet Sezer) and 3 politicians (Turgut Özal, Süleyman Demirel and Abdullah Gül). Until now, Turkish Presidential elections are all made within the Parliament. However, this August for the first time Turkish people will be able to chose their President directly by their votes.
In the single-party period, due to their great legitimacy as the heroes of Turkish Independence War (1919-1922), Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and İsmet İnönü were elected by the Turkish Grand National Assembly several times without a great opposition. After Turkey’s transition into multi-party democracy in 1950, Celal Bayar was elected as Turkey’s first civilian President of the Republic. Bayar kept his post throughout 1950s thanks to his party’s (Democrat Party-DP) majority in TGNA until the 27 May 1960 military coup.
After the coup d’état of 1960, soldiers dominated the political scene again. Next four Presidents (Cemal Gürsel, Cevdet Sunay, Fahri Korutürk and Kenan Evren) were all generals. Evren was the leader of 1980 military coup and he designed a more authoritative post of Presidency for himself in the 1982 constitution. After Evren, for the first time a name coming from active politics, Turgut Özal, was chosen as the 8th President of the Republic. The election of Özal and his Presidency was problematic because he was known to be a right-wing liberal figure and the politicization of post of Presidency created problems in the country. After his unexpected death, Özal was replaced by Süleyman Demirel, another well known right-wing politician in the country. However, Demirel was able to keep his neutrality in the office and had a very successful Presidential term.
After Demirel, a lawyer who was the head of Turkish Constitutional Court, Ahmet Necdet Sezer was elected as the 10th President of the Republic. Sezer, as a man of laws, tried to stay loyal to the constitution and laws but due to changing demographical conditions (the demographic rise of Islamist-conservative groups within the country), his style was perceived as ideological and he was severely criticized by the Islamist press. In 2007, when Sezer’s term is over, the ruling JDP and Prime Minister Erdoğan tried to make the Presidential elections in hurry although it was just few months before the general elections. Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Gül was chosen as the party’s Presidential candidate. This Parliament also had a severe legitimacy crisis since only two parties (JDP and RPP) and 53 % of Turkish people were able to be represented in TGNA. The election turned into a legal crisis about whether a session of the Parliament could be made without 2/3 majority in the General Assembly of TGNA and JDP decided to call for an early election. After JDP’s landslide victory in 2007 elections, Gül was elected as the 11th President of the Republic. JDP also changed the electoral laws for the post of Presidency and turned Presidential elections into a popular vote based race. Although he came from an Islamist background, Gül has been perceived as more successful and less polarizing compared to Prime Minister Erdoğan during his term.
Now, Turkish people will elect their 12th President of the Republic first time by direct popular vote. The first round of elections will be made on 10 August and if none of the candidates gets more than 50 %, there will be a second round on 24 August between two candidates who got the highest votes in the first round. Erdoğan is the clear favorite of the elections but Erdoğan’s challenger supported by social democratic RPP (Republican People’s Party) and Turkish nationalist NAP (Nationalist Action Party), Professor Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, previous Secretary General of the Islamic Cooperation Organization has also high potentials. The third candidate is Selahattin Demirtaş, the candidate of pro-Kurdish PDP (Peace and Democracy Party), who does not have any chances to win the elections but could play a major role in the fragmentation of Kurdish votes. Kurds in Turkey often vote for two parties; rightist Islamist parties like JDP or pro-Kurdish parties like PDP. Demirtaş is a young politician with excellent oratory skills and he will probably get more votes than his party’s 5-6 % average.
2014 Turkish Presidential election is also very important because if he is elected, Erdoğan will try to transform Turkish political system into a semi-Presidential or Presidential system in order to consolidate his own power and get rid of the corruption allegations against him. Erdoğan recently started a legal and political attack upon pro-Western “moderate Islamist” Fethullah Gülen movement, whom he called as the “parallel state” and hold responsible of corruption cases against him. Thus, 2014 Turkish Presidential election will not be just a choice between candidates but rather a choice of political system for the future. All indicators show that Turkish people do not like pluralist democracy and one-man style regimes like the one Erdoğan wants to establish, is more preferable to Turkish people than a real democratic and pluralist regime.
Assist. Prof. Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ