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Turkey’s Longest Year Continues with Presidential Elections

Turkey’s Longest Year Continues with Presidential Elections

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This policy brief examines the prospects for Turkey's presidential candidates.
This policy brief examines the prospects for Turkey's presidential candidates.

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Categories:Types, Brochures
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Jul 17, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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Even as a winner of numerous elections and referenda, 18 months of electoral contests is still a considerable challenge for Turkish Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He
faces corruption allegations, urban popular unrest, and an unfavorable economic climate, but was still successful in the
recent municipal elections. He
faces two challengers in the race for president of Turkey, but is also likely to emerge triumphant
 Turkey’s Longest Year Continues  with Presidential Elections
by Emre Erdoğan
July 17, 2014
W󰁡󰁳󰁨󰁩󰁮󰁧󰁴󰁯󰁮, DC • B󰁥󰁲󰁬󰁩󰁮 • P󰁡󰁲󰁩󰁳 B󰁲󰁵󰁳󰁳󰁥󰁬󰁳 • B󰁥󰁬󰁧󰁲󰁡󰁤󰁥 •
A󰁮󰁫󰁡󰁲󰁡 B󰁵󰁣󰁨󰁡󰁲󰁥󰁳󰁴 • W󰁡󰁲󰁳󰁡󰁷
With three consecutive elections — local, presidential, and parlia-mentary — urkish Prime Minister Recep ayyip Erdoğan’s longest year is also becoming the longest year or urkey. In a previous piece written in this series, “Erdoğan’s Longest Year,” I elaborated on the political motivations and strategies o the leader o urkey, and argued that even as a winner o numerous elections and reerenda, 18 months o electoral contests would still be a considerable challenge. Erdoğan was successul in the first stage o the three consecutive elec-tions, the local elections o March 30. Te governing Justice and Develop-ment Party (AKParty) got more than 43 percent o total votes and won in most o the municipalities. Due to  voter consolidation, major opposi-tion parties’ vote shares also increased but this did not lead to a significant change in the control over the local administrations.Erdoğan and the AKParty aced three challenges in these elections. First o all, the opposition’s election campaigns ocused on corruption allegations rather than the typical local election themes such as the candidates and their platorms. Citizens o urkey witnessed a “tape war” as allegedly wire-tapped incriminating conversa-tions o the prime minister, his son, and other members o the political elite were leaked through the Internet and social media. Te government responded to these attacks by reuting the allegations and restricting Internet access. Not surprisingly, the local elec-tions were seen as a plebiscite or the governing style o the prime minister by almost all major actors. Secondly, another development showed that the popular unrest o the 2013 Gezi Protests survives. About 1.2 million people participated in the uneral o 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who had been shot by a tear gas canister during the protests and passed away afer lying in a coma or nine months. Te reaction o the police orce reminded the uneral participants o June 2013 and led to new wave o popular demonstrations across the country. Te anger o these protesters was channeled to a kind o active citizenship, mobilizing more than 30,000 people to independently monitor the electoral ballots.Tirdly, the economic environment has not been avorable or the govern-ment. Econometric analyses show that a minimum 5 percent economic growth in urkey is needed or the
incumbent government to maintain its previous vote. Te government has ailed to achieve this target in 2013 and estimates or 2014 are not promising either. Prominent political scientists argue that the economic situation is echoed at the ballot box, and that the AKParty’s relative losses are due to a decline in economic optimism.Considering these actors — corruption allegations, urban popular unrest, and an unavorable economic climate — Erdoğan’s success should be admired. But why do almost hal o urkish voters continue to vote or the AKParty?Te answer lies in Erdoğan’s ability, together with his team, to rame the corruption allegations as a “coup” attempt, a threat to the stability and well-being o the country. It is known that voters tend to ignore corruption o politicians i they otherwise think o them as being competent. Erdoğan’s campaign strategy was broadly based on this premise, putting the government services such as healthcare or inra-structure on the primary agenda. A recent analysis showed that Erdoğan’s speeches emphasized programs, while his major competitors most ofen talked about corruption. Te question is now i a similar strategy will ensure Erdoğan  victory in the upcoming presidential elections, which will be held by popular vote or the first time in urkey’s history. Erdoğan has announced his candidacy, and he will compete with two interesting opponents. Te main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) nominated a joint candidate, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, ormer secretary-general o the Islamic Cooperation Organization. Unknown to the majority o urkish society beore his candidacy, İhsanoğlu is an academic whose work has ocused on the history o scientific activity and institutions o learning within Islam, and is a successul diplomat who has actively advo-cated intercultural dialogue. İhsanoğlu was born in Cairo, as his ather had decided to leave urkey in reaction to Kemal Atatürk’s decision to abolish the Caliphate in 1924. İhsanoğlu’s candidacy was so surprising that his name was Googled more than 200,000 times on the day his candidacy was announced. It seems that he has been proposed as a conservative alternative to Erdoğan, to attract a significant portion o the conservative constituency.Meanwhile, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) nominated the chairman o the party, Selahattin Demirtaş, who is not only a very strong figure in the party, but also one who is known or being moderate and whose appeal goes beyond Kurds to various lef-wing groups in urkey. While Demirtaş can get a significantly higher  vote than what his party usually gets in elections (around 6 percent), he is highly unlikely to make it to the second round, i there is one. Te real competition will be between Erdoğan and İhsanoğlu. Te opposition’s decision to nominate a conser- vative candidate has made lie more difficult or Erdoğan. His religious rhetoric will not unction as well as it could against an ultra-secular candidate, and personally attacking a distinguished conservative academician/diplomat would not be a good strategy to attract conservative voters. Erdoğan will try to maintain his constituency and attract some nationalist voters without losing the support he has enjoyed rom the conservative Kurds. I he cannot win during the first round, he will try to gain the support o the constituency o the pro-Kurdish party. Meanwhile, İhsanoğlu will try to attract some AKParty voters who are rustrated with Erdoğan as well as getting votes rom a large majority o CHP and MHP voters. While the candidates have just started their campaigns, the odds already look in Erdoğan’s avor. Erdoğan is using his same strategy, based on raming and emphasizing programs, very successully. He portrays himsel as the candidate o the nation while portraying İhsanoğlu, his main opponent, as the candidate o the establishment. He declares that he will be an active president who will continue to serve by instituting major inrastructure proj-ects while his opponent would be just a symbolic presiden-tial figure. He portrays himsel as a national candidate and his opponent as a candidate imposed by oreign lobbies. He positions himsel as a man o the people while portraying his opponent as just another elite. İhsanoğlu’s main argument is that, while Erdoğan has already announced that he would claim more power than the constitution grants to the president, İhsanoğlu would act within the limits o the constitution, as a president in a parliamentary system. He positions himsel as a consensus candidate and claims that he would maintain an equal distance rom all political parties and embrace all segments o urkish society. In order to appeal to the AKParty’s voter base, İhsanoğlu ofen uses religious rhetoric and makes

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