ŞAHİN ALPAY

s.alpay@todayszaman.com

ŞAHİN ALPAY
April 25, 2011, Monday

PM Erdoğan’s game plan for a third term in power

An analysis of the list of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) nominees for the coming parliamentary elections submitted to the Supreme Election Board (YSK) on April 11, the party’s election platform announced on April 15, and certain recent public statements by him give some clues as to what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s game plan is for his third term in power.

I suspect that his plan is as follows: Soon after the parliamentary elections on June 12, the Parliament expected to be dominated by the AKP will decide that President Abdullah Gül’s term ends in 2014 after seven years in office, in line with the rules that were valid at the time of his election by Parliament in August 2007, and not to the rules adopted in a referendum in October that year, which stipulate that the president is elected by popular vote for a five-year term with the possibility of re-election for a second term.

Erdoğan who, according to party rules, will serve in Parliament for the third and last time, will run for the presidency when Gül steps down. By that time, however, a new constitution will have been adopted, which will change Turkey’s governmental system from being, currently, a hybrid of parliamentary and semi-presidential systems, to a hybrid of presidential and semi-presidential as proposed by Erdoğan’s trusted constitutional experts. Erdoğan will thus be elected president with wide executive powers in 2014, and remain in charge of the country until 2024, so that the 100th anniversary of the republic will be celebrated under his auspices.

Erdoğan may be counting on the following factors in considering the above to be a fairly realistic game plan. The nominees for the June elections have been handpicked by him to assure that the party group in the next Parliament will obediently stick to his line. (Even deputy party chief Bülent Arınç, who made public his opposition to the idea of adopting a presidential system, was warned about party discipline by being nominated for Bursa instead of his traditional Manisa electoral district he preferred.) Surveys commissioned by the party indicate that no less than 60 percent of the electorate is likely to support a presidential system if Erdoğan is behind it. That support may become even broader if the secret negotiations conducted with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), by “state channels in the government’s name” (as confirmed by Erdoğan recently) result in the disarmament of the PKK. Radical proposals soon to be announced by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to address the Kurdish problem are also likely to help clear the way for bringing to an end the nearly30-year-long PKK armed uprising. Erdoğan may be also assuming that the economy will continue to grow by at least 4 percent annually for the next decade.

Can the above game plan work? In a country like Turkey where one year is regarded as long term, the chances that the plan will not work may be said to be greater than otherwise. Why? First because the AKP may well win less than 330 seats in the 550-seat Parliament, rendering the adoption of a presidential system impossible, since opposition parties in Parliament have declared their opposition to such an idea. (Support of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party [BDP] cannot, however, be excluded if negotiations with Öcalan yield results.) Despite hand-picked nominees, discordant voices may still be heard from within the party group. Despite the fact that the AKP’s project for 2023 promises “home designed and produced rifles, cannons, helicopters, planes, unmanned air vehicles and satellites,” the military may not be happy with the idea. More importantly, objections to a Russian-style presidentialism are likely to arise even from civil society and media groups, which have so far been generally supportive of Erdoğan’s policies. Even if a presidential system is instituted with the constitution to be adopted by the next Parliament, who can assure Erdoğan of election as president in 2014 in case the entire opposition unites against him? And what happens if the opposition parties prevail in Parliament although Erdoğan succeeds in getting elected?

The above are certainly mere speculations towards understanding Erdoğan’s game plan, and why it may work or not. The AKP’s election platform, which promises investments that will place Turkey among the 10 biggest economies in the world, with per capita income reaching the level of $25,000 by 2023, surely sounds nice, and may even not be so unrealistic. Economic growth is certainly desirable and necessary. The prevailing developmentalist mindset of the project does not seem to have much respect, however, for serious environmental concerns. I must admit I find Erdoğan’s desire to institute a presidential system, likely to further transform Turkey’s government into a “one man show,” and AKP ambitions for economic growth with scarce concern for the environment quite unsettling.

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