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Erdogan may struggle to enhance presidential powers

13 August 2014

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, although dogged by debates as to the fairness of the competition, has emerged the winner of the presidential elections on 10th August, ‘Al Monitor’ reports.

There are allegations that Erdogan used his position to great advantage during the election campaign. Elsewhere it is reported that he had hundreds of minutes of airtime on state TV, whereas his opponents had virtually no time at all.

Figures for last month showed that while Erdogan received 533 minutes of airtime on state television to make his pitch, his two rivals got three minutes and 45 seconds respectively, according to the UK daily ‘The Independent’.

Even US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said on 11th August that the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had pointed out that:

 “The use of his official position by the prime minister as well as biased media coverage gave him a distinct advantage over the other candidates.”

Semih Idiz of ‘Al Monitor’ goes on to discuss the potential upheaval in the AK party whilst Erdogan’s replacement as prime minister is being considered.

He also points out that Erdogan might need to prepare for a serious battle if the transition period does not run smoothly. He will need party unity in preparation for the general elections which are scheduled for 2015 if he wants his presidential-style ambitions to come to fruition.

Turkish daily ‘Hurriyet’ journalist Taha Akyol points out that that Erdogan’s 52% majority was not going to make that possible. He argues that the results of both the presidential elections and the local elections held in March showed that support for AK party shaped up at around 50%. He also emphasised the fact that the turnout for the presidential elections was low. About 13 million (25%) of the electorate did not bother to vote. He believes that had the rest of the country had gone to the polls, it is very likely that Erdogan would not have won the first round.

However, the main thrust of Akyol’s argument is that if support for the AKP is only around the 50% mark, then it will not win the two thirds majority it requires in the next election to make constitutional changes without the support of other parties.

This makes Erdogan’s ambitions to enhance the powers of the presidency a non-runner. He is, therefore, likely to be hemmed in by the confines of the existing presidential remit which is intended to be largely ceremonial – the last thing Erdogan would want.

President Gul’s announcement that he intends to re-join the rank and file of the AK party in the near future will add to the deliberations  in the extraordinary convention called for by the AKP on 27th  August.

Gul’s announcement has been welcomed by many but not all in the AK party. His announcement has created acrimony amongst the higher ranking AK party members, possibly adding further momentum to party division

Gul will officially give up his post as president on 28th August, meaning that he cannot be nominated as a candidate for the AKP’s leadership at the convention unless he resigns before that day, which is highly unlikely. Some claim that the date for the convention was selected with precisely this consideration in mind.

Sources say that Erdogan would not welcome Gul as prime minister as he (Gul) has great political standing and would be guilty of independent thought; therefore he would not be the compliant figure Erdogan is looking for.

Gul is also hampered by the fact that he is not an elected member of the AKP, even though he is a founding member of the party. Sources close to the presidency are not discounting the possibility, however, that Gul might stand for party leadership after he is elected as a party deputy in the next elections.

This means that the AKP will effectively have a caretaker leader until then who will take orders from Erdogan. But this person would also need to keep the party unified and make it even stronger in parliament than it is today so that it can shape the new constitution that Erdogan requires.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu appears to be a likely candidate, and more recently Ali Babacan’s name has emerged. He is the deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, a man widely respected as an honest and level-headed politician.

However, Babacan has not always agreed with Erdogan on some fundamental issues – the independence of the Central Bank, for example. Babacan has strongly backed Central Bank’s need to be independent. This could, therefore disqualify him from the role of prime minister, as far as Erdogan is concerned.

Whether or not Ahmet Davutoglu, whose has had less success than is desirable in his foreign policy leadership, could keep the party united is not sure, according to analysts.

The AK party has its work cut out to find the right man for prime minister, to remain unified and to deal with the added element of soon to be ex-president Gul in party politics.

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