TODAY’S MESOP COMMENTARY (II) : BY MURAT YETKİN – Demirtaş says he will win, even if he loses

With Selahattin Demirtaş yesterday, on July 15, all three candidates for the Turkish presidential elections, with the first round on Aug. 10, have made their visions public. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s vision as the candidate of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) was to shift the Turkish administrative regime from the current quasi-parliamentary system to a presidential or semi-presidential system with concentrated power and weaker checks-and balances.

The vision of Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, as the joint candidate of social-democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), was to keep the regime, but modify it to a proper parliamentary system with a stronger separation of powers and rather symbolic, supervisor president.

Demirtaş, as the candidate of Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), is again to change the regime, but in their “own way.” That is, to decentralize power from the capital Ankara, to local administrations through what he calls “radical democracy.”

In a modest theater hall in Istanbul, it is impossible to compare with Erdoğan’s expensive show, Demirtaş promised – if elected – to lead the way to quite radical changes regarding a number of Turkey’s critical issues. Free education for all, multi-lingual primary education (to include Kurdish and other mother tongues besides Turkish as “official languages”), an end to obligatory religious courses (only to be given as elective courses), an end to Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (“the state should not control religion, religion should not have an influence on state,” Demirtaş says) and for example an end to obligatory military service.

Those are all targets to really shake the Turkish system up. But does he have any chance to win?

Demirtaş teased himself when he said “I am a modest man, I only want 50 percent plus one vote,” which is the condition to get elected in the first round. He says no candidates could get it in the first round (despite Erdoğan’s being sure about himself) and one of the other two would be his rival for the second round on Aug. 24.

Actually, it will be a great success if Demirtaş is able to get 10 percent of the votes. Therefore, he was asked a number of questions by journalists about what would be the HDP’s stance for the second round – if there is a second round. Would it be for Erdoğan because of initiating a proxy dialogue with the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) via his intelligence chief, or would it be to support İhsanoğlu, just to stand against Erdoğan’s “one-man-rule tendencies,” in the HDP’s own jargon?

He said they were not in a position to select between two bad choices, leaving the question hung up in air whether choosing not to take sides would actually give support to the stronger one. Actually, that was the only question to which he could not produce a satisfying answer. “I am a candidate to voice the demands for a more democratic Turkey, which will bring solutions to the Kurdish problem as well,” Demirtaş says, “It doesn’t matter if I lose; we will win in either case, since those demands will be on Turkey’s political agenda from now.” Demirtaş has a point on that; his candidacy alone seems to bring a new spirit to Turkish politics with fresh targets.