Turkish tug of war

April 15 is the deadline for submitting candidacies for the Turkish presidential race. The ruling AK Party has enough votes in the assembly to elect its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. An Erdogan candidacy for the top post would force the deep state into a strong reaction or to passive acceptance of the fait accompli. Since the Islamic-leaning party’ victory in the 2003 election, Turkey has seen a political tug of war for power. Despite its comfortable parliamentary majority, the AKP has failed to do away with the military’s supervisory role. So far, the deep state has tolerated Erdogan’s administration, hoping it will prove to be a merely temporary phenomenon. At the same time, it has tried to keep AKP cronies out of key state posts, it has questioned the party’s loyalty to the secular republic and, ultimately, it has taken every opportunity to undermine the administration. All this has not seriously damaged the ruling party, which still remains ahead in polls. The presidential election is a chance for Erdogan to get his hands on that crucial chunk of power that has remained under the control of the state apparatus. Through its control of the state apparatus and the presidency, the deep state has so far been able to manipulate the government. The president’s responsibilities are mostly ceremonial. But the sensitive balance between the government and the army have added to the importance of the office. Controlling the presidency and the government would give Erdogan a better hand in his bargaining with the deep state. Yasar Buyukanit, the head of Turkey’s military, said yesterday that the new president must be wholeheartedly committed to the secular order. It’s hard to know if this was a bluff or a warning. But the call for a military operation in northern Iraq is no coincidence. Such an operation would strengthen the military’s hand in Turkey’s domestic affairs.

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