Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won Turkey’s first direct election for President on Sunday, allowing him to embark on further constitutional reform. The polarizing Prime Minister will be sworn into his new role on August 28th, with his ruling Islamist AK party nominating a successor.
According to preliminary results, Erdogan secured about 52% of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff election. Local opinion polls had expected Erdogan to win, outpacing two other contestants from Kurdish and Nationalist parties. In a victory speech to the nation, the Prime Minister struck a more reconciliatory tone declaring the start of a new era in Turkish history and a pledge to embrace all citizens.
Erdogan and his wife at a post election rally. (Photo: Reuters)
Over the next few weeks, the President Elect will convene a meeting of AK officials to elect a new Prime Minister. The nomination process will allow Erdogan to hand pick a new Prime Minister, likely one that will not challenge his leadership. But current President Abdullah Gul, and rival AK leader, could prove the spoiler to Erdogan’s control over Turkey’s top office.
Meanwhile, Sunday’s election will likely provide the President Elect with enough political capital to ensure he remains as the relevant decision maker in Ankara. Erdogan hopes to drive through new reforms this year that would see more powers given to the largely ceremonial presidency, though such a constitutional change would need support from 2/3rds of parliamentarians. But AK does not hold enough seats to pass those reforms without support from other parties; Kurdish leaders might support the process in exchange for other regional concessions.
After serving 12 years as Prime Minister, Erdogan has become increasingly authoritarian. Liberals see a more powerful presidency as a conduit that would allow Erdogan to crack down on more secular opposition and enshrine more Islamism in government. Large protests last year drove millions of people onto the street, leading to a harsh crackdown by security forces and a ban on twitter. But the demonstrations failed to materialized enough political support, as shown through Sunday’s poll and local elections earlier this year. With strong support from religious and economic conservatives, Erdogan seems likely retain substantial power.