The significance of Erdogan’s next step

The crucial question before general elections in Turkey some 10 days ago was not whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would win but how great his margin of victory would be and what would be the new balance of power in the Grand National Assembly. The 47 percent of votes garnered by Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) represents an impressive electoral leap, with evident political ramifications. While the possibility of some intervention by the country’s powerful military cannot be ruled out, it has lost any legitimizing pretext. Although the election results provided a dramatic boost for the Turkish premier and broadened his scope for maneuver, they have not clarified the pending issue of presidential elections. According to a ruling by Turkey’s constitutional court (which is largely controlled by the secular Kemalist regime), at least two-thirds of the national assembly must be in attendance (not necessarily to vote in favor) for a president to be approved. This ruling allowed the Republican People’s Party to thwart the previous attempt to appoint a president by simply not turning up in parliament, thus leading to the elections of July 22. The situation in parliament now remains unclear. Erdogan needs MPs present, not necessarily voting. The quorum will be easily secured if the Nationalist Action Party participates in the voting process, as it has pledged to. After all, the far-right party is not so hostile toward political Islam as the traditional Kemalist establishment. What played a key role in the party’s decision was the fact that failure to elect a president now would mean new elections in October. And opposition parties do not want this, as it would only benefit the ruling party. The Republican People’s Party failed to bring about a shift in public opinion and is therefore seeking a president acceptable to all. But why should Erdogan give in to the Kemalists when he has the ability to have one of his own people in the presidential seat and thus strengthen his hand when negotiating with the country’s military authorities? For the past five years, a kind of dual power has existed in Turkey. The prime minister makes gestures and concessions in order to avoid clashing with the secular «deep state.» The president may not have executive powers but his role is crucially important at the center of this dual power game. By controlling the post of president, the Kemalists have to some extent been able to curtail the government’s power. Erdogan wants to elect his own president to avoid this trap. And this is why army authorities have done all they can (bar a military coup) to avert such a development. Logically, the only way to pave the way for the election of a commonly accepted president would be if Erdogan could secure a pledge from army chief Yasar Buyukanit that the military would not carry out a coup. The situation will shortly become clearer when the Turkish premier reveals his intentions.