Erdogan in a new phase

Finally Tayyip Erdogan has taken oath as the first “executive” President of Turkey and his supporters are still in a state of ecstasy over this milestone. He is being showered with all kind of praises and sanguine slogans, but a closer perusal of the election results would reveal that things may not be as rosy and stress-free for him as being projected by his closer circles. Yes, he is perhaps the most powerful head of state in Turkey in recent times and his powers have been further enhanced by the brand new constitution that converges all executive powers in the position of president. However, the arithmetic of assembly composition, after the elections, has clear indications that President Erdogan will not have a very smooth run in the coming days. Last year, the Turkish people narrowly approved drastic modifications of the country’s constitution, granting whole set of executive powers to the president that he claimed would prevent instability in the political system of the country. The position of prime minister is abolished and Erdogan has become the “executive president,” both head of state and head of the government with unbridled powers to appoint ministers, officials and judges at will, to dissolve parliament, to intervene in the country’s judicial system and to impose a state of emergency - practically converting the existing system into “one-man-rule”.

The results of elections can be summarised in one sentence as; “Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) fell short of their own expectations, while the opposition performed much better than the analysts’ calculations.” Tayyip Erdogan actually misread the voters’ mood and gambled at calling for early polls in a hope to win presidency as well as majority in the parliament. He was fairly confident that he was popular enough to win sufficient votes to become the president in the first round and to grab majority seats in the parliament at the same time, thus becoming almost invincible for the next five years. His announcement, however, for simultaneous snap polls for presidency and parliament was seen with scepticism by many observers who were not too sure about his gimmick to click. Erdogan’s AKP entered into the election campaign by making an alliance with of his alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) headed by Devlet Bahçeli. The new parliament comprises of 600 seats and the AKP won 295 seats, a loss of 21 seats since the 2015 election; its partner, the MHP has 49 seats, a gain of 14, giving Erdogan a comfortable majority but not an AKP majority. Similarly, in the presidential race, Erdogan grabbed 52.6 percent of more than 50 million valid votes. Obviously, Erdogan and his AKP would have not been able to win the election if he had not made a strategic alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The (named or unnamed coalition) between the AKP and MHP was a very shrewd move by Erdogan and he was able to win his presidency as well as majority in the parliament. These elections have directly helped Devlet Bahceli to resurrect his MHP from falling into oblivion.

Before the elections, observers had started talking about the drying vote bank of MHP. But it seems that by allying with Erdogan’s AKP, Bahceli has benefited more out of this deal. Interestingly the veteran politician and head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, nominated Muharrem Ince as presidential candidate to compete with Erdogan. This was a right decision by Kilicdaroglu because the dynamic and charismatic personality of Ince played a key role in mobilising and motivating the CHP supporters who were looking for somewhat younger and energetic leader to take the charge of the election campaign. Ince did not disappoint his supporters and managed to push the chronic 25 percent vote bank of CHP, that had been stagnant for years at the same level, to 30.6 percent. Though it was not enough to defeat Erdogan but it showed that the CHP has found an alternate leader who has the potential to transform the party and marshal the supporters in the coming days. Being a charismatic vocalist, Ince is likely to give a tough time to Erdogan as a strong opposition leader.

There is every likelihood that the CHP may eventually promote Ince, who has effectively demonstrated the strength of his charismatic personality in the snap polls, as its head so as to prepare for the upcoming local bodies elections in March 2019. One disappointment of the parliamentary polls was Meral Aksener, leader of the newly founded right wing Good Party (iYi), who, though managed to muster enough votes to have an entry into the parliament, failed to impress with her performance despite making alliance with Kilicdaroglu’s CHP. However, the Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has performed much better that 2015 elections and won 11.2 percent of the votes and claimed its representation in the assembly. Tayyip Erdogan has gained 344 seats (including 49 seats of the MHP), yet, even together with the MHP it will be far short than the required 360 seats to undertake any kind of constitutional reforms, however, his government’s stability would be directly dependent upon the support of junior partner in the alliance. And he may have to sacrifice more to keep the ruling alliance intact to ensure the smooth implementation of his pre-election agenda that revolves around economic stability and rather aggressive foreign policy, including the hot issue pertaining to the Syrian refugees. Though, at the moment, he seems to be quite at home with Devlet Bahçeli, who is also showing his generous and vehement support for the AKP, but, given the simmering difference over the major policy matters, things may turn sour between the two in the coming days. The two are stitched together in an alliance due to the mutual interest of long-term survival, but still stress will start mounting from the lower cadres when the campaign for local bodies elections will start early next year. That will be the real test of political vision of Erdogan and Devlet, but also it will determine the future working relationship between the leadership of the two parties.

Tayyip Erdogan has demonstrated his dictatorial tendencies in the past and many observers are expecting him to tone down a bit with respect to his intentions to forcibly implement his plans because Bahceli may exert disproportionate influence on his decision making. Plus, the pressure from a formidable opposition, as demonstrated by the June election results, which is also trying to unite against him, will keep him to tread carefully while using his executive powers. President Erdogan is trying to implement his tactical plan very religiously to achieve his strategic goals: revival of Turkey as the nucleus of power equilibrium in the Middle East as well as Central Asia. Certainly, after assuming the executive presidential powers, he will be in a much better position to tackle the opposition at home, but he is expected to face intense opposition from outside the borders of Turkey, particularly from the Western capitals for his efforts to intervene in the energy politics of the Central Asia.


The writer is a freelance columnist.

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