COMMENTARY BY LALE KEMAL : What might happen if Erdoğan loses the presidential race?

Zaman 15- 10- 2013 – Steps towards democratization that were made under single-party rule for over a decade have brought relative stability to the political, economic and social spheres in Turkey.

The reforms naturally matured Turkish society, which had long been suppressed under a military tutelage system since the first military coup took place in 1960 and was followed by two more military interventions up until 2007.

However, even though Turks have been enjoying relative stability, the absence of credible opposition parties remains one of the most important democracy deficits in the country. For instance, for the presidential election planned to be held in August of next year, Turkey has been debating whether Prime Minister and Chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will run for this position and what will be the future plans of current President Abdullah Gül — who formerly served briefly as prime minister and was a former foreign minister — after his time in office comes to an end. No name or names from opposition parties have so far emerged as potential candidates who can challenge Erdoğan if he runs for the presidency.

Similarly, for local elections due to be held in March of next year, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has not yet named potential or strong candidates for big cities such as İstanbul or Ankara. It is as if the opposition parties have accepted that the AK Party’s single-party rule will continue for another decade. Against this background of a lack of a credible opposition that can emerge as a potential rival to the AK Party, the Turkish public has been given no choice but to focus on Erdoğan and Gül as the two prominent politicians whose future positions will, undoubtedly, play a significant role in the continuation of the relative stability in Turkey.

Gül and Erdoğan, in the meantime, have only recently made public, though vaguely, their future political plans. Gül hinted of his return to politics during his address to Parliament on Oct. 1 on the occasion of the start of the new legislative year, in which he said that after doing his best to serve the nation over the last six years as president, he would continue to serve Turkey. Similarly, Erdoğan, who has long left questions from the media over whether he will stand for president unanswered, hinted vaguely during a TV interview on Oct. 3 that he might run in the presidential election if his party wishes him to do so. The public, for the first time, will elect its new president in a public vote instead of Parliament doing so.

“I will act [and stand as a candidate for the presidential post] in line with what my party decides. I will not take steps that will lead to a division within the party,” he added. Hence, Erdoğan relayed two important messages: namely that he will most probably compete in the presidential election and that if he does so, he will appoint someone to the party leadership and to the premiership position who will be able to keep the party intact. According to the most powerful scenario current being formulated in Ankara’s back corridors, Gül, a veteran politician and one of the founders of the party in 2001, will become the AK Party interim leader if Erdoğan runs for the presidential seat next August.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç is highly speculated to become interim prime minister until the 2015 elections if Erdoğan runs for president. Nevertheless, if Erdoğan loses the presidential race, he can return to the party only as its leader but not as prime minister in accordance with party regulations which prohibit deputies from serving more than three terms in office.

Opinion polls conducted frequently by Prime Minister Erdoğan — as frequently as every week, says a party aide — that are not made public as well as those that are publicized have been showing that those polled want Gül to become prime minister if Erdoğan goes to the presidential palace. Since Gül has to first run in the 2015 general elections to become a deputy, which will then pave the way for him to become prime minister, he is highly likely to be appointed as interim party chairman until the general elections.According to an opinion poll conducted by Konsensus and published by the Habertürk daily on Sept. 29, 35.9 percent of respondents voted Gül as their favorite to replace Erdoğan as prime minister should the latter run for president.

Erdoğan is said to have been influenced by the opinion polls. In addition, some senior AK Party members, who have been at odds with Gül due to their earlier concerns that he might contest Erdoğan and run as president and rule for another five years, have reportedly made a U-turn supporting Gül becoming party chairman after Erdoğan. If Gül becomes AK Party chairman, this will alleviate rising concerns that the party might split if Erdoğan, a powerful politician holding the party intact, goes to the presidential palace. Concerns over a possible split within the AK Party stem from the fact that this may cause instability in the country as the opposition parties do not provide any hope at all of governing the nation next. The AK Party under Gül’s chairmanship is also expected to ease rising concerns in Turkey over Erdoğan’s increased authoritarian tendencies which have already discouraged, for instance, foreign investors in their future plans to invest in the country. Gül is regarded as a politician who will repair Turkey’s recently deteriorated image under Erdoğan both inside and outside the country. Though Erdoğan has a strong chance of becoming president if he runs for the post, there is, however, no guarantee that he will receive over 50 percent of the vote. Such a possibility will, for sure, change the balances in Turkish politics for better or worse. Read more: