Erdoğan the president

The expected happened. Yesterday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced his candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections in August. It was a majestic event, organized in a huge hall in Ankara full of thousands of emotional supporters. First, an 18-minute video clip showing the life story Erdoğan was presented. Then, with minutes-long applause, Erdoğan came to the scene and gave a long, impressive speech. “This is not the end,” he said at the end, “but only a new beginning.”

I have underlined a few aspects of Erdoğan’s speech. First, it was very Islamic. He began with a long prayer and then made many references to God and religion. He said he is a mere mortal that serves a much larger “cause,” whose earlier leaders included Selahaddin Eyyubi, the great Islamic commander of the 12th century, as well as the founders of the Seljuk and Ottoman Empires. This emphasis on “the cause” will certainly galvanize his Islamist base, but whether it will appeal to mainstream voters is a question that deserves some pondering.

Secondly, despite his strong Sunni-Islamic references, Erdoğan gave warm messages to Alevis, Christians, Jews and secular circles, as well. This can be the sign of a new effort by him to build bridges with the segments of society he has antagonized lately — especially the Alevis and secularists.

However, he passionately emphasized that, if he gets elected as president, his war with “the parallel state” will go on in full swing, indicating that his enmity with the Gülen Movement is not likely to diminish anytime soon.

Third, Erdoğan gave a whole narrative of how Turkey’s conservative masses have been oppressed, humiliated and marginalized by the secularist elite for more than a century. Of course, his examples were highly selective and his tone was very subjective, but one must see that this very perception, the oppressed common man, is the most powerful social dynamic that has created Erdoğan’s success story. The secularist elite, one could say, is reaping the whirlwind it has sown.

But what are Erdoğan’s chances for winning? And if he wins, what exactly will happen?

Well, his chances for winning are very high. There are two other candidates: The common Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) candidate Ekmeleddin İnsanoğlu and the Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtaş. The cumulative CHP-MHP vote was around 43 percent in the latest elections, and that might be the potential for İhsanoğlu, for whom I personally have a heart.

Erdoğan’s vote is probably slightly higher than that. Moreover, many expect Demirtaş’s Kurdish base, which we can expect to be around 6-7 percent, will go for Erdoğan in the second round, where only the top two candidates will compete.

The bigger question is exactly what kind of a political system will Turkey have if Erdoğan is elected president. It is very clear he will use the seat with its “full powers,” which includes acting as the head of the executive. This means that the prime minister, whoever that will be, will act as a secretary to Erdoğan. However, what if this weakens the Justice and Development (AKP) as a party and kills its charm before the general elections of 2015? This is a question that will initiate new dynamics in Ankara, and perhaps new tensions within the ruling party in the upcoming months. Erdoğan, thus, was not wrong to reiterate, “This is not the end.” It is, indeed, the beginning of an unknown future.