Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is not “worried about winning the elections” as the party sources indicate a new election strategy which would focus on winning the presidential elections rather than ensuring the majority in the parliament ahead of 2023 election. His shift in focus indicate that there is indeed a worry that things might not be as easy as before.
“We are not worried about winning the elections. I know the language of the streets well. As long as our people’s courtesy continues, no one can hold us. Because there is no alternative,” Erdoğan said to the American PBS channel on Sep. 19 as he was in New York for the United Nations summit.
According to ruling AKP sources, ideas about setting a new course for an election strategy were developed further at the Central Executive Board meeting on September 12. Upon the request of Erdoğan, the new strategy will be built upon a specific focus on the presidential election instead of running a dual campaign for both gaining the majority of the parliament and winning the presidential race in the 2023 elections.
This does not mean that the AKP will not give importance to the parliamentary elections, but the priority will be winning the presidential election.
It can be deduced that Erdogan believes that even if AKP or AKP and Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) People Alliance lose the majority in the parliament, “there will be solutions” to compensate for the loss such as forming temporary or permanent coalitions.
According to party sources, the executives plan to form an independent working group in order to determine a new election strategy within the framework of this goal. This working group will not be officially affiliated with the Party Headquarters or Presidency, but will directly report to Erdoğan. The group will probably consist of 30-40 people working separately from offices to be founded in Ankara and Istanbul.
Why was it needed, and who will lead it?
A source informing YetkinReport on condition of anonymity gave an interesting answer to my question of why there was a need for an independent structure not officially affiliated with the party or the Presidency.
“Erol Olçok, who was martyred on the night of July 15, used to work like that,” the source said. Olçok had been working with Erdoğan since the 1990s when he was running for İstanbul mayoralty.
He has been often pointed out as the communication strategist behind AKP’s election success and public image.
“This way, such groups can work more comfortably and generate ideas outside of intra-party competition and teaming,” the source added.
In the political backstage, the rumors indicate Ertan Aydın to be the head of this working group.
Ertan Aydın, a Professor of Sociology, was a text writer and political advisor to Erdoğan, and was Ankara representative in the parliament for a while. He is known to be from the party’s centre-right wing, which does not come from political Islamist background.
In the AKP, the election strategy is usually undertaken by the Research, Development and Education Directorate, but currently, it is under Mustafa Sen. Party sources state that the R&D team will continue to work, but an election strategy that will stop the loss of votes, especially in this segment can be set by a name closer to the center like Aydın.
Parliament is open until nominations are finalized
This election strategy has some weak points. For example, if the focus will be on protecting the Presidency rather than gaining a parliamentary majority, how will discipline be ensured among AKP lawmakers in the parliament ahead of the critical legislation to be voted on before the election? Especially after Erdogan instructed the party officials not to “include worn-out names on the nomination list” for the parliamentary elections.
Party sources state that Erdoğan wants to keep the General Assembly open until the final candidate lists are submitted to the Supreme Election Board so that all deputies will participate in the critical votes to be held in this period, in the hope that they might be included in the new list.
The election seems to be on May 14 or May 21. This means that Erdoğan is now taking into account the possibility that the election will not be finalized in the first round. Thus, if the President is not elected on June 18, the expected date, the party will elude the second round to be held on July 2, which includes risks for the AKP, following the closure of schools and the Eid-al-Adha holiday.
Erdoğan also hopes that if the election is held even a month early, he will also prevent the debate that he will not be a candidate again. This will happen if the parliament approves early elections and the opposition İYİ party has already signalled that it will not prevent it.
Election strategy and critical March-April months
The months of March and April are critical for the new election strategy; especially in March when the election decision is expected to be taken.
Erdoğan believes that the public reactions against the rising cost of living can be subsided with the effect of the increase in the wages of civil servants and workers in March and April. In addition, the launch of the “domestic and national” TOGG car at this time, the completion of the Black Sea natural gas transportation, and the start of electricity generation at the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, where the conflict with Russian President Vladimir Putin was resolved during the Shanghai Summit, are all planned for this process. Likewise, the moral impact of projects that give hope for the future, such as major public housing projects, and the popularization of the “world leader” perception in foreign policy are also calculated.
Time will tell if these calculations will yield results. However, Erdogan’s change in strategy which prioritized protecting the presidency rather than the parliamentary majority is a sign that he does not see things as easy as he used to. This brings to mind the words of main opposition CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu:
“Erdoğan knows that he will not win the majority in parliament”.
There is one more truth. At the moment, the debates within the alliance table of six opposition parties are most beneficial to Erdogan, who is in the process of changing his election strategy.