Who should be our next president?
Since I came back to Turkey a month ago, everybody seems to be concerned with one thing: Who should be our next president?
Actually, we already know the answer of another question. Who will be the next president? Unless he gives it up himself, which is unlikely, our prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will be the next president.
It's hopeless: Some try to stretch the law in place to come up with a magic interpretation that will render Justice and Development Party (JDP) unable to elect him. Some say it is undemocratic that a parliament gets to pick the president only five months before its term ends. Others say it is undemocratic that a parliament that represents only 52 % of the votes gets to elect the president (thanks to the general election threshold and the weakness of the alternatives, only 1/3 of the vote was enough for JDP to secure 2/3 of the seats in the parliament.) Some remind Erdoğan's conviction for reciting a non-laicist poem. Some try to convince Erdoğan by claiming it would be strategically wrong to leave his party right before the general elections.
What is unnerving to all is how beautifully everything played out for Erdoğan and his party. After struggling with current president Ahmet Necdet Sezer's vetoes and filings at the Constitutional Court, it will be lovely to have one of their own up there, especially if they can secure the majority of the parliament again in the upcoming general election. All the appointments and legislation will be streamlined. If an opposition coalition comes to power, a president with a JDP past will be a nightmare.
Does it have to be Recep Tayyip Erdoğan? There are plenty within the party who would be happy to "take on the duty," they could even find someone whose wife doesn't wear a headscarf. In situations like this, however, usually the party leader is the presidential candidate. How could he pick a candidate "among equals" without making the others upset? Moreover, he has a stubborn streak which would keep him from backing down against criticism.
The Chief of Staff Yaşar Büyükanıt spoke in a press conference last week. Among other things (the situation in Northern Iraq and the comments of Kurdish leader Barzani, the clashes with the terrorists in the South East which left many soldiers dead, and the alleged coup plans in 2004 which resulted in harsh investigations of the magazine that published the story) he naturally touched on the presidency elections. He said our next president should genuinely believe in Kemalist principles and secularism. JDP said he was describing their unannounced candidate.
A couple of days later, this time President Ahmet Necdet Sezer made a harsh speech at a military school for airforce officers. Sezer was the head judge of the Constitutional Court before his presidency. The PM of the time, Bülent Ecevit, did not have a chance to run because he wasn't a college graduate. The coalition came up with the "compromise" candidate Sezer, and when Sezer scolded Ecevit because he didn't do enough to fight corruption, the 2001 financial crisis broke out. In short Sezer is a principled, blunt man who is not afraid to tip the balances by voicing his opinions.
His speech was clearly the result of careful analysis. I agree wholeheartedly with his conclusions about the independence of the judiciary, the need to reduce the 10 % general election threshold and limit the immunity of the parliamentarians, the need to improve democracy within the political parties and the dangers of media agglomeration. By being so cross with the government, he said he tried to protect the republican and laicist principles and prevent the "tyranny of the majority."
Sezer's opinions, however, are very static. They are so static that they can be called a belief. Sezer believes in the NATION STATE and the need to protect it against the big threats and conspiracies and games. He is the prototype of the "defender of the laicist republican NATION STATE." Of course, those who spend their lives serving the state legitimate their existence and powers with its sustainable strength. He said "the regime" had never been faced with a bigger threat. Laicism could not be "reduced to religious freedoms" because the "conditions" in Turkey called for a wider interpretation (which justified the protection of our state against anti-laicist tendencies, of course.)
Those who spoke of a more democratic state in fact wanted to turn Turkey into a moderate Islamic state, he said. "Without domestic peace, political stability, economic development and the advancement of the society has no meaning." The "outside powers" wanted to weaken the role of the military because the "global system" wanted to divide and weaken the "nation state." He was cautious of privatization of sensitive sectors. See the comments section for an except from his speech that sums this line of thinking beautifully.
Sezer never mentioned Article 301 or Freedom of Expression in his speech. Neither did he mention the investigation over Hrant Dink's assasination. His cold reception of Orhan Pamuk's Nobel Prize is still at the back of my mind. He said every effort should be made to improve our defense capabilities, but he didn't say a word about education.
Then finally Atatürkçü Düşünce Derneği (Kemalist Thought Association) organized a rally in Ankara on April 14. Although the rally addressed wider issues than simply the presidential election, its urgency clearly stemmed from Erdoğan's looming presidency. According to estimates, some 300,000 people joined the rally, chanting "Turkey is laicist and will remain that way." Some professors made speeches. They resorted to enthusiastic, simple slogans against the conspiracies of global powers. The lack of rational argument in their speeches and the fervor in their voices reminded me of the fetwas of Imams. Yes, to me, this rally wasn't any different from a rally by religious fundamentalists. Their beliefs were unfalsifiable because they didn't want to hear anything else. They say they want to bring the light, but they are the ones who keep Turkey in darkness.
Should Recep Tayyip Erdoğan become the next president? No. At first his liberalism seemed fresh to people like me who were sick of corrupt politicians, the sleaze and unlawfulness of the "deep state," and the secularist establishment with their nationalist, anti-globalization rhetoric. But he proved much of the suspicions against him correct. He didn't do anything to change Article 301. He didn't do anything to improve our education system. He didn't do anything to improve the independence of the judiciary. (How can one forget the attacks on the Danıştay (Council of State) judges who approved a verdict against the headscarf?) He started a campaign to appoint his supporters everywhere. He didn't remove the immunity of the parliamentarians as he promised. He has sketchy business relations. He's acted immaturely in many occasions and has a bad temper. I would rather have a more refined person be our president.
Will he become the president? Yes. The opposition proved over and over again that they are self-interested and incompetent. They wouldn't reduce the general election threshold because it was in their advantage. They don't say anything against Article 301. They are not capable of concrete policy-making. They are responsible for the exceptionally favorable situation JDP finds itself in now. They deserve the outcome.