Orhan Kemal Cengiz
Will Erdogan run for an election he thinks he might lose?
The Turkish Constitution clearly and unmistakably prohibits any candidate from running for a third presidential term, which raises questions regarding Erdogan’s future. Some say he will disregard this rule, reasoning that neither the High Council of Elections nor any other institution would dare remind him of constitutional rules as they are all under his strict control.
Others claim that in case of an early election, Erdogan can bypass this rule and run for a third term presidency. However, for an early election to come to play, the opposition needs to support the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its electoral ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) as the AKP-MHP coalition does not have enough parliamentary seats on its own. As to why the opposition would even support an early election measure enabling Erdogan to run for the third time is a different question entirely, and one which has no ready answers.
One does wonder, however, how the opposition would react in either scenario. In the case of a normal election, would they fight to make Erdogan abide by the constitution? In the case of an early election, what would they do? We do not know the answers to these questions. The opposition claims they will announce their candidate when the government sets the election date, but they have not made any comments about their possible reactions to Erdogan’s candidacy in different cases.
Another chronic source of debate in Turkey concerning Erdogan’s candidacy is whether he would run for an election he knows he will lose. Some analysts claim that if Erdogan thinks there is a chance that he will lose, elections will not be held. The elections can be circumvented through either a war or a declaration of a state of emergency. Greece and Syria are possible alternatives with whom war can be made. As for a state of emergency, there are an abundance of possible justifications, such as terror attacks and so on.
If we put aside conspiracy theories and try to separate fact from myth, the question of his candidacy in an election in which loss is possible can be judged based on past developments. Since his time as Istanbul’s mayor, Erdogan has used surveys efficiently to assess his popularity within the electorate and to foresee whether he would win or lose. The upcoming election would be no different. Take, for example, the 2019 Istanbul mayoral election in which Erdogan nominated his right hand and former prime minister Binali Yildirim, as the AKP’s candidate. Erdogan himself gave speeches in almost every district in Istanbul to support Yildirim. In the end, however, the result was a shock: the AKP lost the election by 16,000 votes. The Erdogan administration could not stomach the outcome, and so they claimed that it had been rigged. The election was held for second time with a landslide victory for Imamoglu, with the difference in votes rising to to 800,000 votes.
Erdogan, who had not only witnessed a first defeat, had also created a disaster by insisting on a repeat election. Evidently, the Istanbul public read the repetition as an insult to their will. Such a significant difference of 800,000 votes was a pointed sign by the people.
Today, we see a similar disrespect towards the will of people. Only recently, Mayor Imamoglu was given a prison sentence and barred from running in an election. There are rumors that he could be dismissed from office even if the verdict does not result in a conviction. For those who have a minimum level of respect for democracy, these are not positive developments. In a survey asking whether people believe Imamoglu’s punishment was entirely legal or politically motivated, 75.7% of participants responded that it was political. Interestingly, 53.5 % of the participants believe that this unfair sentencing will be in favor of Imamoglu in his political life. It is common knowledge in Turkey that Erdogan himself benefited from a similar situation when he was Istanbul’s mayor. His unfair sentencing allowed him to rise through the ranks to become prime minister and president.
Whether it be good or bad, there has been a parliament in Turkey for over 140 years and people have always been sensitive about the ballot box. How the general population in Turkey responds to these recent developments, and especially Imamoglu’s sentencing and prohibition from candidacy, will become clear come the elections. And the results may not at all be what Erdogan wishes!