The Turkish opposition parties, especially the main opposition CHP and its Nation Alliance partner IYI Party, have been avoiding answering a question that’s worth a million dollars: Can President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan run for presidency again?
The reason behind the opposition’s reluctance to answer that question lies in the fact that they are worried. They are concerned that if they answer it with a simple “no,” Erdoğan might use this obstacle as a political strategy to appear victimised by the “Turkish political elites,” reiterating a discourse that brought him to power 25 years ago.
Both Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and Meral Akşener, the leader of the IYI Party, have expressed their concern indirectly, stating that they will “beat him at the ballot box.”
So far, only DEVA Party leader Ali Babacan has openly opposed this among the “Table of the Six,” the election alliance formed by the six opposition parties against Erdoğan’s AKP and MHP alliance.
“If the elections are held on June 18, as it is officially scheduled, and Erdoğan is a candidate again, this will be unconstitutional,” Babacan said.
“If the Supreme Election Board says that Erdoğan can be a candidate, then I will challenge them,” he added.
Presidential Candidacy Discussion
Türkiye underwent a constitutional change in 2017 where the Prime Minister post was abolished and the Presidential Governmental System was implemented, where all executive authorities were transferred to the elected president.
According to Article 101 of the Constitution, “A person can be elected president no more than two times.”
In addition, Article 116 of the Constitution stipulates that the parliamentary assembly can decide to renew both parliamentary and presidential elections by three-fifths of its total number of members. “In the event that the parliament decides to renew the elections during the second term of the president, the president may run for another term,” since their term would not be fulfilled.
The article continues as follows, which fuels the debate: “In the event that the President decides to renew the elections, the general election of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and the presidential election shall be held together.” It does not specify if the president in their second term can be a candidate in this way or not.
Is Erdogan not aware of this situation? Of course he is aware. Well, does being aware of it stop Erdogan? No.
Supreme Board of Elections’ decision
I asked Mustafa Yenerolu, the DEVA Party’s legal consultant for the Table of Six, yesterday.
“We don’t want to accept anything unconstitutional, trusting the Supreme Election Board to reject it,” he said, adding that “if Erdogan becomes a candidate, we will appeal it to the Supreme Board. Our preparations are complete.”
Serap Yazıcı, the legal consultant at the table from the Future Party, says, “It is constitutionally impossible for Erdoğan to be a candidate for this office a third time.”
“Because Mr. Erdoğan was appointed to this office for the first time on August 10, 2014, he was elected for the second time with the elections held on June 24, 2018. As a result, the Constitution’s requirement that candidates be elected a maximum of two times has been met,” Yazıcı said.
In addition to these answers, neither Muharrem Erkek nor Bahadır Erdem, the legal consultants of the table from CHP and the IYI Party respectively, wanted to give an open answer to my questions on this subject.
The reason is political, not legal: what they are calculating is to hinder Erdogan from converting this situation into a vote, claiming that he is still a victim after twenty years. The CHP and IYI Party think that the Supreme Election Board will decide in favour of Erdogan anyway, and that it would be a waste of time and energy to deal with it despite the Constitution. HDP does not stand out in this regard either.
“There is no obstacle”
Supreme Board’s Chairman Muharrem Akkaya is lucky because his term of office expires on January 24. Therefore, he will not sign a decision that will incur Erdogan’s wrath, or a decision that might be taken in line with Erdogan’s wishes.
However, from the statement he made to Deutsche Welle Turkish Service correspondent Alican Uludağ, we understand that he had a study done “in his own way” on this subject, but he does not reveal the result.
According to Mustafa Şentop, Speaker of the Grand National Assembly of Türkiye, the Constitution was amended after Erdoğan was elected President for the first time in 2014, and thus the first presidency should not be counted.
“There is no obstacle for him to be a candidate. Article 101 of the Constitution regarding candidature has been completely changed. This article is included in the constitutional amendment adopted by the 2017 referendum. In April 2018, the new Article 101 came into force, and the old one was repealed,” he said.
MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli is also of the same opinion. This is why he announced Erdoğan’s presidency before Erdoğan did.
If it is done on time, if it is brought forward
As you may have noticed, the statements include the phrase “if the election is held on time.”
Although AKP Spokesperson Ömer Çelik finally stated on January 2 that the elections would take place on time, statements from other prominent AKP figures implying that the elections could be postponed followed each other on June 18.
For example, Şentop thinks it is “conceivable” for people to leave Türkiye in convoys due to the Hajj season (assuming that most of them are AKP voters).
Şentop did not address concerns within the AKP that factors such as the positive effects of the increase in the minimum wage, civil servants’ salaries and pensions would not last until June in the face of the increasing cost of living.
AKP Parliamentary Group Deputy Chair Özlem Zengin states that although there is no decision to postpone the election, the date of May 14 is among the dates that are being discussed.
His candidature is questionable if he dissolves the parliament
AKP Deputy Chair Hamza Dağ points out that if an early election were to be held, this could be done in two ways: either by parliamentary decision or by the President’s dissolution of the parliament.
Unless the opposition parties support the early elections, which the CHP and the IYI Party say they will not, Erdoğan’s decision to call for early elections with the votes of the 360 deputies in the parliament will solely depend on the support of the HDP. HDP on the other hand, does not seem to be inclined in this direction at this stage.
If Erdoğan wants to move the elections earlier in order to gain an electoral advantage and realises that he cannot do so with the parliament’s votes, he will have to dissolve the parliament.
But turning back to Article 116, it is open for interpretation if, in the event that he uses his authority to dissolve the parliament, he can be a candidate again.
Politics where the constitution loses its meaning
The discussion becomes void if we interpret this situation like Şentop, that is, if we assume that Erdoğan’s presidency between 2014 and 2018 would not be fulfilled as a presidential term “under a different constitution.”
However, this situation still brings to mind the provision that “a person can be elected president for a maximum of two times” in Article 101 of the Constitution. Article 101 does not say “according to this Constitution.” Nor does it contain an exception clause such as “The term of office of the President shall continue,” which was put in place to prevent Abdullah Gül from being a candidate again when he was elected President in 2007. “A person can run for office at most twice,” it says.
The objection to this will ultimately go to the Supreme Board. The CHP and IYI Party will probably say, “Erdoğan will get the decision he wants anyway; let’s not let him use victimhood as an advantage.”
In this way, perhaps they will have done what is necessary for realpolitik. But this situation shows another issue that Türkiye has reached during the twenty years of AKP rule: The constitution has lost its meaning and importance in politics.
That is why, even though the Constitution is there, as is obvious, political parties aspiring to power avoid the question “Can Erdoğan be a candidate?” in order not to be a tool for his political propaganda.
That is why this is a million-dollar question.