The next era in Turkey’s politics – Erdogan v. Ihsanoglu
August 8th 2014 | Istanbul | Bartu Kaleagasi
For the first time in history, on this 10th of August, the people of Turkey will be voting to directly elect the republic’s next president.
If no candidate secures a simple majority of 50%, a second run-off round will be held on August 24th between the two most popular. This election, which was previously performed through indirect appointment, represents an opportunity for Turkey to alter the path of its political future. Three candidates are in the fight for this position: Erdogan, Ihsanoglu, and Demirtas.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Currently the Prime Minister of Turkey, and infamous for his authoritarian rule, Erdogan is the presidential candidate of AKP – a moderate Islamic party which preaches conservatism. Having garnered substantial support throughout the years, opinion polls predict that he is set to receive anywhere between 45% and 55% of the vote tomorrow.
However, the population of Turkey is heavily polarised, and opposition to Erdogan is remarkably strong. The economy may have seen positive growth under his rule, reaching as high as 9% of GDP in 2010, but Erdogan’s track record of human rights is tainted with oppression and deception. It is no coincidence that in 2013-2014, mass protests broke out over Gezi Park, a green space in the heart of Istanbul which Erdogan had attempted to destroy. Year after year, the Prime Minister been taking away his people’s civil liberties, with absolute disrespect for freedom of speech, freedom of press, and the secular constitution laid out by Turkey’s founding father, Ataturk.
Erdogan has fined TV stations for blasphemy, banned access to both Youtube and Twitter, trialled leftist military officers with frivolous charges of “coup plans”, banned alcohol between 10pm and 6am, displayed several instances of serious anti-Semitism, lobbied against abortion rights, jailed more journalists than any other nation in the world, constructed the largest expansion of mosques in history using taxpayer money, conspired a false flag attack on Syria, repeatedly insulted protesters by calling them “vandals” and “alcoholics”, removed the Turkish Republic’s “T.C.” initials from government buildings, taken control of Turkish media through bribery and police arrest threats, banned advertisements and TV shows displaying alcohol, led to the death of 301 miners in Soma due to inadequate safety regulations, attacked peaceful protesters with chemically-treated water cannons, blamed his critics of being controlled by Jews and “Jewish corporations”, and then blamed stray cats for a blackout during local elections which led to mass voter fraud and thus the disintegration of democracy in Turkey.
To top it off, as if even more reasons were needed to oppose his candidacy, Erdogan and his family were recently caught on tape having multiple conversations about stealing and laundering government money. With an almost Orwellian style of governance, Erdogan is pushing Turkey towards a dangerous future in which “thought crime” is a reality.
Unfortunately, as it stands, a vote for Erdogan represents a vote against freedom of speech, against secularism, and against social progress.
Leading academic in the history of science and religion, Ihsanoglu is the presidential candidate of both CHP, the leftist secular party, and MHP, the nationalist party. Although the two parties are on conflicting ends of the political spectrum, their decision to join strengths and field a common candidate might allow them to surpass Erdogan and win the election. Critics may judge this to be an unusual strategy – and they are right, but it goes to show just how destructive Erdogan’s reign has been, pushing opposition parties to do anything they can in order to stop him.
Dr. Ihsanoglu, as much interested in religion’s value to society as its potential flaws, strongly advocates the separation of church and state; in other words, secularism. He has founded the Institute for Organic Chemistry at University of Ankara, founded the Department of History of Science at Istanbul University, and given lectures at various prestigious universities in the UK, the USA, and Germany.
During public speeches and debates, Ihsanoglu maintains a calm tone of speech with emphasis on peace and co-operation; this is in stark contrast to Erdogan’s accusatory and hostile manners. The position of President, officially representing the Turkish Republic, requires qualities such as respect for opposition, democratic tendencies, and the drawing of a thick line between religious and governmental affairs. As it stands, Ihsanoglu offers most of this.
Whilst he may not be the perfect candidate for either CHP or MHP supporters, which together make up just over 50% of the Turkish population, his potential to bring together the two sides against AKP’s bid for presidency is paramount.
A vote for Ihsanoglu may just be a step towards greater freedom of speech, secularism, and social progress.
Former lawyer and Kurdish politician, Demirtas is the presidential candidate of HDP, a leftist party known for its support of minority rights, LGBT rights, and democratic socialism. He has long been fighting for fairer representation of Kurds in Turkey, a political issue which has plagued the country for many years. Furthermore, Demirtas advocates urgent care towards environmental issues, a greater role for women in politics, and economic policies which would push Turkey towards social democracy.
Just like Ihsanoglu, Demirtas is keen on secularism. He has stated that compulsory religion lessons in schools must be removed, young citizens should be better represented in parliament, and cultural favouritism should be decreased.
Yet, concerns raised by his critics focus mainly on his support of Kurdish groups – some of whom have committed acts of terrorism in the past. Demirtas has great ideas and progressive values, but people fear he may be held back by the more radical members of his party.
Nonetheless, a vote for Demirtas would be a considerable improvement from the reign of AKP; it would represent a step towards social democracy, secularism, and multiculturalism.
Officially, the elections may be “democratic”, but the advantage lies unfairly in the hands of Erdogan. With overwhelming state benefits, unrivalled financial power, and complete control over Turkey’s media, the AKP candidate has all the tools necessary to silence the opposition and propel himself towards presidency.
Not only did AKP fix votes with mass electoral fraud at this year’s local elections, but they have been found to frequently bribe people in order to buy their votes. If Erdogan is elected, he plans to expand his constitutional powers as president even further, reaching what has been described as the status of a “quasi-dictator” by his opposition.
If, however, Erdogan does not reach the required simple majority of 50% in the first round tomorrow, it may well be the end of the road for him. An eventual second round of elections would require him to face the joint effort of both Ihsanoglu and Demirtas supporters, which represent well over half of the Turkish population.
If CHP, MHP, and HDP voters got together against Erdogan on this potential second round, Ihsanoglu could win presidency.