The main opposition parties have chosen Edmeleddin Ihsanoglu to run against Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Aug. 10 presidential election. A summer campaign is about to heat up.
ISTANBUL — It had been Turkey's hot topic for the past six weeks: who would run as opposition candidate in the August presidential election.
Everyone had a very specific idea about what qualities any potential candidate should have. To face off against the presumed frontrunner, current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the candidate should be bilingual. He should have government experience. He should understand foreign affairs. He should be tall. He should have blue eyes. He should be from our party. No, he should not be from our party. He should be an academic. He should be a she.
Well, this week, the two major opposition parties, the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) agreed on a consensus candidate who meets many — but not all! — of those criteria: the respected academic and diplomat Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who stepped down in December as Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
A newcomer to Turkish electoral politics, let's consider what awaits Ihsanoglu in the coming two months. He should be prepared, physically, to speak at no fewer than two or three rallies each day (in the summer heat) between now and the first round of voting on Aug. 10. Second, he should be able to set up a team quickly that can prepare a campaign strategy that includes both running logistics and laying out a governing platform.
Across the spectrum
Moreover, Ihsanoglu, 70, will have to attract voters from different political parties and various points of the religious-secular spectrum. The former head of OIC has of course been to a mosque or two in his lifetime, but he will also have to reach out to the social democrat/leftist voters, as well as allaying any suspicions of nationalist voters.
For the first time, the people will directly elect the president, instead of the parliament. Though most of his career has been far from the rough-and-tumble arena of politics, Ihsanoglu will need be able to lead rallies in at least in 60 cities and have the political maneuverability and energy to enter debates with Erdogan, who will most certainly be the ruling AKP party's candidate.
The campaign season will also include the holy month of Ramadan. There is a very slim chance that somebody will win in round one.
Votes from the Kurdish BDP party votes will be very important, assuming the race continues to the second round. Of course, there are also Turkish citizens living abroad who will be able to vote in a Turkish presidential election for the first time.
In short, the period from Aug. 11 — when the results of the first round are announced — until Aug. 23 will be the most exciting period for Turkish politics in memory.