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May 15, 2012, Tuesday


It is becoming more obvious each day that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is seriously getting ready to establish a presidential system. He wants to be the first president of Turkey equipped with the powers of the presidency that are not afforded by the existing parliamentary system.

It must be noted that as of now the prime minister has more powers than both the presidents of the US and France. His party controls the legislature. The government (he calls it “his government”) is an outgrowth of the legislature, and lately the maverick judiciary has been reined in as proven by the dismissal of a number of prosecutors who have dared to interrogate critical persons and institutions close to the government or the ruling party. Instant laws have passed to prevent the interrogation and possible prosecution of personnel close to the prime minister such as those from the National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

There are also clues that Mr. Erdoğan is trying to forge a coalition in support of his quest for the presidency. After taming the military he has been reluctant to assign blame for or investigate the deaths of 34 young Kurdish smugglers in Uludere last December. This attitude is interpreted as maintaining close ties with the armed forces so that the institution will not object to his quest.

Another move that was noted as winning the supporters of the most popular football team (having the largest number of fans) was using his influence in changing the law governing sports contests. The same law was enacted only months ago to penalize match-rigging and illegal financial deals that would affect the outcome of sports games. This law was changed in one day after UEFA had accused Turkish teams of match-rigging and a number of renowned team managers had been arrested.

The administration of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) was forced to resign, and handpicked management was installed that worked selflessly (sic!) to ward off penalties that were impending for teams and managers alike. The federation quickly altered its previous report stating that a number of teams and managers were involved in match-rigging. This was done against the will of UEFA, which will most probably bar Turkish teams from competing in European cups.

These moves pleased a particular team that walked away with without being punished. It was so sure of becoming the league champion that when it lost to another team in the finals its fans wreaked havoc and waged a field battle to prevent the winning team from being awarded the champion’s cup last weekend.

How do these arbitrary initiatives go with the electorate? According a recent poll (Metropoll, April 2012) although the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has regressed by 1.5 percent since the elections last June (and 3 percent from 51.8 percent in December 2011), it is still able to poll 48.3 percent “if there were elections this weekend.” The nearest is the Republican People’s Party (CHP) with 21.2 percent followed by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) by 11.3 percent and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) by 4.5 percent. These figure show that the AKP is still the favorite party and is ready to support its leader’s bid for the presidency.

When people were asked whether they liked the way Mr. Erdoğan conducted his duties as the prime minister, 65 percent of the electorate responded positively, while 30.6 percent objected. A total of 92.6 percent of AKP and 55 percent of BDP supporters have a favorable opinion of Mr. Erdoğan’s performance as prime minister; 29.5 percent of CHP and 34.1 percent of MHP supporters are of the same opinion.

The strongest opponent of the prime minister is Mr. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the CHP. His approval rating among the general electorate as the leader of the opposition is 24.1 percent. So the prime minister has no real competition.

When asked which party leader is trusted most, Mr. Erdoğan stands out by far at 50.5 percent, while Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu is preferred by only 11.1 percent of the electorate.

With almost no personal rivalry or party competition, Mr. Erdoğan will most likely run for the presidency. The general public seems ready to support him. He is additionally trying to forge alliances with critical institutions and their leaderships. The best test for his resolve will reflect on the new constitution. We will soon see if it will be shaped to accommodate a presidential (or semi-presidential) system.

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