Erdogan’s march towards Cankaya presidential palace

For the first time in our history the president is going to be elected by popular vote. We do not know about the possible consequences of this on our democracy and political life. Aug. 10, 2014, the date of the presidential election, will be a fresh start for our country. It seems the presidential election will be marked by this ongoing process of polarization. Can we manage to overcome polarization with minimal damage as we head toward the election? Can we hold this election without being dragged into a whirlpool of obstinacy? Moreover, can we use this election as an opportunity to defuse the ongoing polarization and even to establish a social consensus? Is there a way to do this? Allow me to think aloud and try to brainstorm on this issue.

My first observation is that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has already finalized its decision about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s presidential nomination. After the party’s election success in the municipal elections of March 30, the nomination of any other person is no longer an option. All the members of the AK Party, including its deputies and local branches, believe that the party’s success in the municipal elections of March 30 provides enough stimulus for Erdogan’s election as president. They are confident in this respect and exhibit a determined stance about Erdogan’s election as president.

And those who form a block against the AK Party and Erdogan’s election as president have developed two strategies: The first group is trying to find a presidential candidate who can make Erdogan lose the election instead of challenging him in this presidential race. In other words, they ask “Who should we nominate to have Erdogan lose this election?” However, regardless of whether Erdogan wins or loses, the right question to be asked is “Who can win this election against him?” All anti-AK Party and anti-Erdogan groups can unify around a joint presidential nominee whose qualifications and identity the majority of society will be happy with, and this is another thing. I repeat, the identity of the presidential nominee who will run against Erdogan in the presidential election slated for Aug. 10 is the only matter that can eliminate the ongoing polarization.

The second group only says that “Erdogan cannot become president.” In order to justify themselves, they voice the same arguments and claims they put forward before the March 30 municipal elections. In fact, the election campaigns of the opposition parties were based on these arguments. Indeed, some of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) executives claimed that Erdogan was going to flee abroad. AK Party voters did not buy these arguments and claims in the municipal elections. So why would they do this now? A presidential nominee who does not grow bitter with Erdogan and who does not concern him or herself about why Erdogan can or cannot become president but who can explain to the people why he or she should be elected president can defuse the social tension and have a chance at winning.

My second observation is that Erdogan himself can de-escalate the social tension and polarization and can adopt an attitude that may eliminate concerns that he may become more authoritarian if elected president. In fact, those who voted for him consider his attitude courageous and firm rather than authoritarian. They think “If he did not act this way, they would have finished him off.” And so they continue to support him. In addition to this, those who love Erdogan also say: “The president to be elected by popular vote should embrace all social groups, and be very tolerant and a soft-hearted man.” As the leader of a political party and as prime minister Erdogan may have failed to meet this expectation because of the harsh and cruel political environment, but he can manage this on his march towards the presidency.

Those who know and love him say he can do it. They believe an Erdogan who steers clear of hate speech and a sense of revenge and who remembers the prayers of his late mother can refresh people’s hopes.