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A *Sweating President* - Inside Erdogan's Political Ambitions

Turkey's current prime minister has big plans, both for himself and the very way his country is governed.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech in Ankara, Turkey, in November 2013.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech in Ankara, Turkey, in November 2013.
Omar Sahin

ISTANBUL — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s strategy regarding the role of president, prime minister and leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is now clear. Erdogan will run as a candidate this August in the country’s first presidential elections to be held by public vote, in a move to reform the country’s political system from a parliamentary to a presidential democracy.

The prime minister seat would be occupied by a “senior” official who is not a candidate in the 2015 general elections, thanks to the party’s three-term rule that says an AKP member cannot run for the same position three times in a row. If Erdogan wins the presidential election, his influence would remain over the government even though he would be based at the Cankaya presidential campus, in Ankara. Sitting President Abdullah Gul remains the most popular name in the party to replace Erdogan, but he will wait on the sidelines until 2015.

The strategy became clear after Erdogan and Gul met to discuss the matter following the AKP’s administrative gathering in Ankara last week. The party has decided that the three-term rule will not be changed and that the next general elections will be held according to the current system, as opposed to employing two previously discussed alternatives.

Prime Minister Erdogan will assign somebody to his current position if he manages to win the presidential seat. At the same time, the AKP congress will gather and elect a new party leader. The most likely candidate for this seat is Bulent Arinc, one of the “founding fathers” of the party. It is expected that he will lead the government and carry the AKP to the elections.

Not just a test run

If elected president, Erdogan will be a “sweating, running president who gives orders, not a ceremonial president.” He will no doubt use his authority and make his influence felt.

President Gul does not seem to be on Erdogan’s agenda at least until the 2015 elections. Gul will wait on the sidelines for a while if Erdogan becomes president. There is less than a year between the presidential election in August 2014 and the general elections in June 2015, and it will be perceived as a test for the presidential system Erdogan and his team have in mind.

If the concept of a strong president receives positive reaction from the people, Erdogan will once more leave his mark on the AKP in the general elections. There will no longer be any need for strong names for prime minister and AKP leader. Erdogan will go after the necessary parliament seats to change the constitution and transform the system from parliamentary into presidential.

According to this strategy, Gul has no choice but to wait for the 2015 elections. It is known that Gul will not agree to serve as a “low-profile” prime minister.

Erdogan will have the final discussions regarding the presidential elections with the party executives in a gathering this week. Meanwhile, public opinion polls have been commissioned to gauge the feelings of people. The results are to be evaluated at this next meeting. AKP prefers to announce the candidacy as late as possible to consider the opposition candidates.

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