It is a clear result, no question. Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan received 51.8% in the first round of presidential elections in Turkey and therefore will succeed Abdullah Gül whose term will end on 28 August. However, even almost 52% can appear below expectations. Serious polling institutes like Konda and A&G predicted something around 57-59%. They now explain their miscalculation with the low participation of only 74%, whereas in the municipal elections on 30 March the voter turnout was 89%. But not only Erdogan remained behind expectations, this is basically also true for the candidate of the main opposition parties CHP and MHP Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu who got 39.8% and to a lesser extent also for the candidate of the Kurdish (and leftist) HDP, who received 9.8%.
There were rumours before the elections that if Erdogan wins more than 55%, the AKP would call for early elections in November to use this tail wind to guarantee a 3/5th majority of seats, which are needed to change the constitution (330 out of 550 mandates). According to the current constitution the Turkish president is mostly representative and can appoint important positions in the judiciary and academia. For Erdogan, this is not enough. He has been saying for years that he prefers a presidential system and that for him the US president would still have too few competences. However, the AKP after the 2011 elections tried to change the constitution in a parliamentary commission, but there was no agreement on these issues.
Next Prime Minister Davutoglu, but what will Gül do?
Most likely therefore is that the next parliamentary elections will be in June 2015 as scheduled. These will be the first elections without Erdogan as leading candidate since 2003. The AKP will elect its new chairman and prime minister on 27 August. The most promising candidate is current foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, because he was until now only elected once to parliament and therefore could run two more times. Other heavy weights within the party like economy minister Babacan or deputy prime minister Arinc can not run in the next elections, because of an AKP statute, which only allows three elections to the same institution. Since the day after the elections a big question mark is current president Abdullah Gül. He said on Monday that he “will return to his party”, minutes later AKP party spokesperson Hüseyin Celik announced the date of the party congress, one day too early for Gül to run for any of the positions. Will he still try to become the top candidate for the upcoming elections?
Davutoglu is certainly respected in the party, but he is no campaigner, no rousing speaker, it is difficult to imagine him speaking to crowds the way Erdogan has been doing over previous months (and years). When he became foreign minister in 2009, he was regarded as the architect of Turkey’s foreign policy doctrine of “zero problems with neighbours”, which then seemed a huge success with improved relations to the Southern neighbours, much talk about Turkey’s soft power and mediating efforts from Iran to Lebanon and Israel/Palestine. However, in the past four years Turkey’s foreign policy is everything but a success. Ankara does not have an ambassador in Egypt, Israel and Syria, an awkward situation for a would-be regional power. Additionally Turkey is heavily criticized for supporting the Syrian opposition, including radical Sunni organizations logistically, with weapons and by keeping the borders open. Davutoglu still last week refused to call ISIS a terrorist organization, but just “a radical one with terrorist-like structures”.
Opposition struggles to attract new voters
The opposition will criticize prime minister Davutoglu heavily for his foreign policy performance. However, criticism alone will not be enough to attract new voters, indeed this only partly succeeded in the presidential elections. The project of the CHP and MHP to attract traditional AKP voters with a conservative-religious candidate can be regarded a failure. Ihsanoglu did not get the percentage of CHP and MHP combined in the municipal elections and there is no sign that AKP voters opted for him. Demirtas of the Kurdish HDP fared quite well with almost 10% compared to 6.1% in the municipal elections. But this also showed his limits, even if the party now has a Turkey-wide appeal, only a very small portion of Turks voted for him. In the next elections the CHP will run with his chairman Kilicdaroglu and there will be also smaller leftist parties, so that the upcoming HDP election result will be rather close to 6.1% than 10% and this is not enough to overcome the 10% threshold. Therefore the lesson for the HDP should be to again run with independent candidates to at least get some 35 to 45 MPs to parliament.
Sunday’s result, the result of the municipal elections on 30 March (AKP: 43%), the change of prime minister altogether make it less likely that the AKP will come close to the 2011 result of almost 50%. And this is maybe the best message from the presidential elections. Erdogan will be at least five years president, but it is unlikely that he will be able to increase his competences significantly. He will try to remain the major player also in daily politics, but this will lead to problems not only with the prime minister, but also with the constitutional court, which decided already three times this year against Erdogan (twitter and youtube bans, law on judges and prosecutors). An AKP without Erdogan as the top candidate will rather lose votes in the upcoming elections. This in the end could lead after 13 long years to the prospect of a coalition government bringing new people and ideas to the government.