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Turkish Premier Runs for President, an Office He Has Plans to Strengthen 2 juillet 2014

Posted by Acturca in Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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The New York Times (USA) Wednesday, July 2, 2014, p. 10

by Tim Arango And Ceylan Yeginsu

Istanbul — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Tuesday that he would run for Turkey’s presidency in elections next month, a move that is likely to position him as the country’s dominant political figure for years to come.

Mr. Erdogan has held power for more than a decade, having withstood the challenges to his rule from angry street protests and from a corruption inquiry. He is already considered the most consequential political leader here since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Capturing the presidency may allow Mr. Erdogan, 60, eventually to surpass even Ataturk’s legacy.

But it could come at the cost of deepening the divisions in Turkey between the masses of religious Turkish Muslims, whom Mr. Erdogan represents, and an increasingly angry but divided opposition, composed of liberals, nationalists and urban Turks who want nothing more than for Mr. Erdogan to exit the political stage.

In contrast with the post of prime minister, the presidency of Turkey has until now been largely, though not entirely, a ceremonial post. But if Mr. Erdogan wins — as analysts widely expect — it is likely to become vastly more powerful.

It will also have a greater popular mandate than before: In August, for the first time, the president will be chosen directly by Turkish voters, rather than by the Parliament.

Mr. Erdogan would be likely to maximize the office’s existing powers, especially if he can maintain his hold on his party and orchestrate the appointment of a compliant prime minister. The president appoints judges and university rectors and can veto laws passed by Parliament.

Mr. Erdogan has also sought to change the Turkish Constitution to create a government dominated by the presidency. So far, he has not been able to muster the necessary support, but many expect him to try again. And his advisers are already laying the groundwork for a much more powerful presidency under Mr. Erdogan.

 »If Erdogan is elected, Turkey will have a strong president without a formal presidential system, » Ibrahim Kalin, a top adviser to Mr. Erdogan, wrote in a newspaper column on Tuesday.  »The current Constitution does not allow for a full-blown presidential system. But the powers of the president make it a hybrid system. This needs to be understood properly. »

His nomination was not a surprise. Officials from Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., signaled for weeks that he was likely to be their nominee. Still, it was a splashy affair conducted in front of thousands of party members and government officials in Ankara, the Turkish capital, and it took on the choreographed trappings of a coronation.

It left unanswered the question of the political future of Turkey’s current president, Abdullah Gul, another Islamist who worked with Mr. Erdogan to found the A.K.P. more than a decade ago. Mr. Gul has been seen as a more conciliatory figure than Mr. Erdogan; after his term ends, he could emerge as a candidate for prime minister in the general election next year.

Still, most analysts say that if Mr. Erdogan is president, it will matter little who is prime minister.

 »It doesn’t really matter whether Erdogan is the prime minister or president, » said Svante E. Cornell, a Turkey analyst and research director at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, a research organization.  »He has created an ‘Erdogan system,’ where power is personalized in his own hands, enabling him to tailor-make the composition of the government to ensure he has the exact kind of influence that he wants. »

Mr. Erdogan’s presidential ambitions, along with the criticism that he has become increasingly authoritarian by securing more control over the judiciary and the media, have evoked comparisons to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the pre-eminent political figure in his country for nearly 15 years, switching back and forth between the posts of president and prime minister.

 »Right now, Erdogan is going down a Putinistic route of polarization to consolidate the vote behind him, » said Sinan Ulgen, a Turkey expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels.

In accepting his party’s nomination on Tuesday, Mr. Erdogan cast his campaign for the presidency as the final victory over the old Turkish political order, dominated by the secular military and oppressive to the faithful like himself.

 »If elected, I will be everyone’s president, » he said.  »It will be a different type of presidency. » Rather than stick to diplomatic functions, he promised to be a president who  »sweats, runs around and works hard. »

Before taking the stage, Mr. Erdogan sat in the front row of the audience next to his weeping wife, as a documentary about his life played on a big screen. The scenes of his impoverished youth and his rise in Islamist politics illustrated the dominant theme of his career: the triumph of an underclass of religious conservatives over a secular elite.

Mr. Erdogan, who has served three terms as prime minister, is prevented from seeking a fourth by the internal rules of his party. In his time in power, he has been credited with presiding over a growing economy and with advancing the interests of Turks who felt oppressed under the old political order, especially religious conservatives and Kurds. The dominant role of the military ended through a series of trials that are now being reconsidered by the Turkish judicial authorities.

But over the last year, he has faced numerous challenges to his rule, and his international standing as a leader who embodied the possibilities of both Islam and democracy has diminished. He and his inner circle have also been caught up in a corruption investigation that he calls a politically motivated smear campaign by supporters of the Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers have, over the years, become entrenched in the judiciary and the police.

If he is elected president next month, Mr. Erdogan will have earned a five-year term, but he is not likely to stop there.

He has made no secret of his ambition to be the country’s leader in 2023, the 100th anniversary of the modern Turkish republic, built by Ataturk out of the rubble of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.

Analysts say his opponents in the election — Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a former diplomat nominated by the main secular and nationalist parties, and Selahattin Demirtas, the candidate of a pro-Kurdish party — have little chance of winning.


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