Five years in Turkey with President Erdogan
By: Ceylan Ozbudak
Yesterday, the Turkish people went to the ballot box to elect Turkey’s first directly elected head of state. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had served as Turkey’s prime minister for three consecutive terms, won the election and rose to office to serve for the next five years. I don’t want to talk about Erdogan’s political achievements or his contributions to Turkey; I want to explain why the other candidates could not defeat him despite substantial foreign media pressure and after having already served three-terms as prime minister, which typically erodes the votes of even the most brilliant politician.
Erdogan is not a politician to begin with; he is a simple man with a cause and quite unlike his closest rival Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, who is an academic. When compared to being a politician, the former adjective is a pro in politics while the latter is considered a con. Professor Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu is a fine gentleman with close to perfect manners and an enviable educational history. Born in Cairo, İhsanoğlu speaks Arabic fluently along with many other foreign languages. He is not known to use sharp language even in his criticisms, he doesn’t display anger even when he is upset, and he has perfect table manners for diplomatic dinners. İhsanoğlu offered a perfect image to the positive image hungry population of Turkey. If we are to compare his demeanor to the members of the current Turkish Parliament, we can safely say he exceeds the expectations of even the “White Turks,” the country’s urban Republican elite. However, even the entirety of the “White Turks” did not vote for him for the presidency and there are valid reasons for this.
A good candidate needs good politics
A good candidate is not enough without good politics. The two parties who decided to go with İhsanoğlu as a presidential candidate both failed to give Turkish voters enough reason to vote for them. In the last 12 years, neither the CHP nor the MHP managed to come up with an effective financial plan or a viable foreign policy alternative. When the CHP seemingly supported Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, it was a huge turn -off for the center- left segment of the electorate. The MHP is often seen as far more compassionate in terms of humanitarian issues; however, the party’s foreign policy steps remained quite introverted when compared to the AK Party’s energetic and bold moves. Professor İhsanoğlu was expected to put forward a much more dynamic foreign policy path to Turkish voters, after having served as the secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, but instead he chose to go with the classical CHP path and lost the hearts of the conservative Turkish public.
Erdogan is someone we know. He is someone who does not shy away from sitting on the floor with the poor Anatolian grandfathers and breaking bread with workers in dirty underground tunnels
Speaking of the conservative public; one simple fact many pundits ignored, or basically did not want to talk about, was that the presidential race – for many Turks – was about the question “who is more religious?” According to the 2012 Pew survey of Muslims worldwide, 97% of Turks believe in God and 67% of Turks say that religion is very important in their everyday lives. Even in these warm summer days, Turkey’s beaches are full of women enjoying the weather, they go to the closest silent place at prayer time (sometimes just a corner on the beach) and come back to dive in the blue waters of the Mediterranean after their prayer. İhsanoğlu had impeccable Islamic credentials; he was the founding director-general of the OIC-affiliated Research Center for Islamic History, Art, and Culture and has a graduate degree from al-Azhar University but in my view he was seen to fail the religious Turkish public when he denounced the open borders policy of the AK Party in regards to Syria. İhsanoğlu criticized the enormous funding spent on the Syrian refugees and the number of refugees in Turkey, which was possibly one of the main reasons the AK Party gathered support from the Turkish public in terms of foreign policy issues. We may have witnessed some unfortunate reactions about the increasing number of Syrian refugees, but an overwhelming majority of Turks do not want to leave any Syrians in the hands of Assad since they seems to see hosting them and sharing the national wealth as a religious obligation? In many aspects, I believe that İhsanoğlu simply failed to resonate with the pulse of the Turkish public, the very people he was asking to vote for him.
Selahaddin Demirtaş, the only left -wing candidate in the elections, had the perfect discourse. Almost everything he uttered seemed to resonate with public opinion. He talked about women’s empowerment, minority rights, rights for the disabled, environmental issues, democracy, unity, peace, love, family and whatnot; his party had a ten year plan. It was quite controversial, but contrary to other opposition parties, they at least had one. He dressed well enough and he took his young non-veiled wife to every meeting he could. One doesn’t get any more charming than this in Turkish politics it seems. Everything about him was unbelievably good until we remembered that he and the party he represented had accepted Abdullah Öcalan, who in the eyes of some is responsible for the death of 60,000 people as the putative leader of the Kurdish people. After that point, every single thing he said seemed, to some, to resemble the propaganda speeches of earlier communist leaders and their promises to the public before the Iron Curtain of communism fell down upon them in ruins.
Erdogan and his rise
Erdogan displayed his interest in shifting the political system of Turkey into a presidential system before the elections and the majority of people did not want to leave the parliamentarian system, according to some observers. Despite this political disadvantage, Erdogan remained undefeated in the elections because having him as Turkey’s first president did not scare our people. Erdogan is someone we know. He is someone who does not shy away from sitting on the floor with the poor Anatolian grandfathers and breaking bread with workers in the dirty underground tunnels. He is that fellow who suffered the brutality of a politically motivated judiciary and spent time in jail simply for mentioning the name of Allah in a poem. He is a man that we know, who can laugh with us, cry with us, share his pain with us or bristle and complain with us. Erdogan is someone we know. Even when he makes angry comments, I feel that the majority of Turks know his anger will subside and he will ultimately do the right thing. Even his overenthusiasm with getting involved in neighboring states reflect the majority views of the Turkish public. We Turks like to get involved with the politics of our neighbors, or even our far-off friends. After decades of loneliness in foreign policy by choice, the AK Party’s steps to get more involved with African and Asian countries has been a delight for the Turkish public. We feel like a neighbor who has returned home after a long business trip and we cannot get enough of the neighbor’s visits. We don’t want to miss any social gathering and we don’t want to go home, even when we see our neighbors yawning. I believe that the people of Turkey want to establish a Middle East Union, along the lines of the European Union which will include the Turkic republics, and Erdogan has been both the dreamer and the supporter of this very cause since the beginning of his time in office.
Erdogan also made many mistakes during his time as prime minister. He was criticized a great deal and I have faith that he will reconsider many of his actions with the opening of this new chapter in his political career. He can be a familiar player in the game but I feel a new dawn has risen in Turkish politics with this election. Now the parties need to do their best before the 2015 general elections. This will give the opposition an opportunity to take a greater part in the decision-making process.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak