Erdogan Struggles to Convince Own Party, His Base For Yes Vote

A number of polls point to an uphill battle for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan not only to convince the nation to accept a constitutional amendment that envisions expanding his powers but also to persuade undecided, swing voters within his party base.

Former figures close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and pro-government journalists publicly share their concerns about the existence of a smoldering anxiety within AKP who are concerned about placing too much powers in the hands of one man.

Their particular concern centered on the question of who would succeed President Erdogan and what would happen if a candidate from opposition becomes president with the same powers in the future.

Felicity Party (Saadet) Chairman Temel Karamollaoglu told Haberturk TV on Tuesday that he would count hundreds of AKP officials and members who intend to vote No in the upcoming referendum, a critical vote that is bound to unwind century-old political system, parliamentary checks on the president’s authority.

With the adoption of an executive presidential system, both the party, which has ruled the country for 15 years, and Parliament will be mostly sidelined by a new source of power centered in the presidential palace. While Mr. Erdogan’s presidential office already enjoys tremendous powers, his employing of executive power takes place through his wielding influence over the government, the prime ministry and Parliament.

Mr. Erdogan currently has no executive power as much as the prime minister, and his intervention in partisan politics is a blatant and clear-cut violation of the constitutional provision that requires impartiality for the presidential office. President Erdogan’s involvement in government decision-making is, therefore, unconstitutional and devoid of any legal basis, and his violations would stir trouble for him once he falls from power.

To obtain a constitutional cover for engagement in daily policy-making almost in every aspect of politics, Mr. Erdogan seeks to steer his country to an executive presidency with almost no checks on his power.

His political calculations focused on one option: winning the Yes vote in the referendum scheduled for April 16. But his forecast for the future does not seem to match with concerns of his party fellows. For AKP officials and lawmakers, a presidential system will spell the death of their political existence in Parliament.

The center of power will ultimately shift to presidential palace and office. The appointed bureaucrats will hold more sway than selected lawmakers. Parliament will lose its legislative check on Cabinet appointed by President, and its future will depend on whims of the president who will assume the power to dissolve legislative body whenever he sees necessary.

The palpable incongruence of two competing needs and reviews have never been publicly expressed. But in private conversations as well as behind-the-scenes memos shared with their fellows and press members, some AKP lawmakers display not-too-subtle anxiety and, at times, disdain with the proposed change.

In theory and practice, Parliament will be rendered as a rubber stamp for the president’s office.

In addition to career politicians’ doubts for the nature of change and its implications for the party and themselves, the succession of power remains at the heart of the problem that matters to them most. What would happen when Mr. Erdogan pass one day? What would mean for them if a member of opposition becomes president after Mr. Erdogan with same powers now envisaged in the constitutional amendment?

It is this question, according to a prominent pro-government journalist Fehmi Koru, that keeps AKP supporters and officials on edge.

Mr. Koru who is closer to former President Abdullah Gul more than current President Erdogan has offered a stunning portrait of the prevalent mood among AKP bigwigs and stalwart lawmakers unnerved by broad implications of the new framework which they shepherded through Parliament.

Whoever he talked from ruling AKP, majority of them agree to cede vast powers to Mr. Erdogan whom they think deserves and will masterfully steer to lead the country. But Mr. Erdogan, like any other human being, is a mortal man who will eventually die one day. There the problem emerges within full scope. Nobody seems to content with leaving so much power to someone else, save for Mr. Erdogan.

Mr. Koru showcased an alarmism over the prevalence of No votes according to a number of credible polls, and tried to dissuade the president and other AKP denizens from proceeding with the referendum, urging them to withhold the vote in its entirety.

But nowhere in his line of argument, he never appeared to be questioning the main pillars of the proposed change from a critical view, rather unearthed the existence of ifs and buts rooted in AKP elites.

Weeks after that, however, he wrote a critical piece in which he implied that he may vote No in the upcoming referendum.

Felicity Party Chairman Karamollaoglu is equally pessimist for the prospect of a win for AKP, offering solace to opponents of the constitutional bill by highlighting a dissent building within AKP’s base.

But that intra-party opposition never came to the surface, remained subtle and reserved given larger than life persona of Mr. Erdogan and his all-embracing charisma that dominates his loyal constituency.

Last week, a Yes banner splashed over the face of the No-vote Felicity Party headquarters in Istanbul, leaving media and observers bewildered. The party soon issued a statement and said the Yes banner hang over the building without their knowledge and consent.

Nobody had any question over who might be the culprit, behind the episode: the ruling AKP. Mr. Karamollaoglu regarded that assault as a desperate act that speaks to the sense of despair entrenched within the ruling party over the tight race during the campaign.

Felicity Party which shares same political and cultural roots with ruling AKP, descended from political ideology of Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister in mid-1990s.

Mr. Erdogan, his longtime friend and former President Gul, both founding fathers of AKP in 2001, had a fallout with Mr. Erbakan and his disciples within center-right of the political spectrum. Their parties both have Islamist roots.

Felicity Party, however, places its opposition to the constitutional amendment on a different ground, shows particular effort to differentiate itself from motivations of other parties. The party is not against executive presidential system as a philosophical and principled objection, but rather it opposes the current scheme because it lacks a credible checks and balances system that could limit excesses of the president.

Abdullatif Sener, former minister and one of the four founding fathers of AKP, said former President Gul, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and former Parliament Speaker and deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc all remain silent, reject offering a public backing to Mr. Erdogan’s Yes campaign.

Former comrades of President Erdogan are well aware of the implications of a Yes vote, and Mr. Sener argued that they see acceptance of constitutional amendment as the most significant setback, damage to be inflicted on this country over the past 100 years.

When asked what he thinks about the presidential system, former President Gul last week offered a measured response rather than a direct repudiation of the proposal to avoid infuriating his former friend Mr. Erdogan. But his framing of the proposed system is unmistakeably a cynical rejection of Mr. Erdogan’s formulation of the presidency as a “Turkish-style” presidency, with unique features dissimilar to presidential systems in other countries.

Mr. Gul told media that if Turkey shifts to presidential system, it should be similar to American one with a strong checks and balances mechanism, not a “Turkish-style” one.

President Erdogan and his political troops are campaigning for a distinctive presidential system, peculiar to Turkey, with no resemblance to any other presidency existent in other parts of the world.

That emphasis earned an upswell of acclaim from loyal supporters but met with trepidation and horror among critics who fear of ominous signs of a creeping authoritarianism.

Mr. Sener said former towering figures of AKP have a legitimate concern from social backlash in the future, fear of accusative charges if they give a blessing to the proposed changes with Yes vote. So, their simmering concerns are not lost on observers and media as those figures keep a low profile in the public, shy away from any association with President Erdogan’s campaign rallies.

 

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