Erdogan's Next Move
Professor at the University of Waterloo’s Balsillie School of International Affairs and a CIGI senior fellow
Turkish Prime Minister Tayeb Erdogan will claim he won the recent municipal elections that took place on April 4th, but his name was not on the ballot. The big question is, will Erdogan put his name forward to serve as President in the expected presidential elections in August? Has he been emboldened by his party's win at the municipal elections or will he shy away from the ballot box in light of the corruption scandals plaguing both him and his inner circle?
The controversial Erdogan is celebrating the successes of his Justice and Development (AK) Party in municipal elections. The AK Party won the crucial seat of Istanbul and most cities in the interior of the country—albeit there remains controversy with regard to the AK Party’s success in the political capital of Ankara—and most importantly it has surpassed its results from the last municipal elections in 2009.
For many Turks, the 2014 municipal elections were interpreted as a referendum on Erdogan himself rather than those running for the seats, themselves. For Erdogan’s critics, the 2014 municipal elections represented the first time Turks went to the polls since the outbreak of protests while opposition parties rallied around the slogan “down with the thief, Erdogan.” This message was supposed to send the Prime Minister a message of the people's displeasure with his wheeling and dealing. But with the party's overwhelming win in key municipal elections, Erdogan likely feels more emboldened more now than ever.
Which begs the question, what might Erdogan do next? Well this Erdogan’s—and by extension Turkey’s—political drama is complicated by two issues.
First, the AK Party's own bylaws has put limits on party leaders from holding the Prime Minister role beyond three terms. Erdogan is in his final, third term and undoubtedly enjoys his powerful position in recent years. Indeed, he may opt to run as Prime Minister again next summer by effectively changing his political party’s own rules. That might be an easy fix, but makes his party look like hypocrites for criticizing the previous ruling Republican People’s Party (CHP) party for one-man rule. That said, Erdogan seems less interested in consistency than in meeting the desires of his base of support among the working class and government workers that his government has added to the payroll that continue to come to his fiery public speeches in large droves.
The second complicating factor is that the role of President remains a largely ceremonial role in Turkey. If Erdogan were to run for President this summer, he would be effectively taking a demotion from the all-powerful position as Prime Minister. And while Erdogan had tried to propose constitutional amendments to increase the legislative and executive powers of the Presidency, he has thus far been unable to endow the role with the power for him to play a musical chairs with the current President Gul in August in a repeat of the Russian game played by PM Putin and President Medvedev. These constitutional amendments were dead in the water with the Gezi Park uprisings last summer and the government will have a difficult time getting them re-tabled in time for the August election.
This leaves two options come August, an election with Erdogan on the ballot in a reduced role of the presidency or Erdogan being on the ballot next year following high stakes infighting between those in the AK Party between those that want a seat at the table. If Erdogan's actions is any indication, I think he will chose the latter rather than the former. Following these election results, he has lots of fight in him and clearly doesn't want any of his powers trimmed… and so the Turkish political drama continues.