Presidential Election 2014 Insights Special

Photo credit: T24,

Turkey is electing its President for the first time in the history of the Republic in August 2014. Three candidates Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Selahattin Demirtas are running for presidency. Although much has been spoken about the candidates, CEFTUS Insights editors are looking what the candidates say about and promise for 10 of many issues that concern Turkey.

[tabby title=”Recep Tayyip Erdogan”]

Erdogan promises ‘Democracy, Prosperity and Esteem on the road to New Turkey’.

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”System of Governance” opened=”closed”]Incumbent Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) candidate. It has been the AKP’s, and particularly Erdogan’s ambition to move onto a new way of appointing the President of Turkey. They have proposed to elect the President directly by the public instead of an internal appointment by the Turkish parliament.

Allegations suggest that AKP’s this move will initiate further changes to the system of governance Turkey. A presidential system of government with a Prime Minister with much less authority might be installed if and when the Turkish Constitution, which is a production of 1980 military coup, is amended in the next years. PM Erdogan in his ‘Presidential Vision Statement’ (PVS) states that changing the Constitution is his priority if he is elected, however, there is no direct and open reference or promise to implement a new presidential system as opposed to the current title ‘Cumhurbaskanligi’ (the Presidency of the Republic) in his PVS.

Nevertheless, PM Erdogan who claims to have destroyed ‘all sorts of tutelages’, promises an active and strong President who will interfere in cabinet’s work and deliver his judgement on every issue that matters to the ‘nation’.[/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”The Peace Process” opened=”closed”]PM Erdogan promises to carry out the Kurdish Peace Process that the AKP has started in the recent years. Erdogan calls the process a ‘project of brotherhood’. Following to Erdogan’s announcement of candidacy, the government has passed a critical bill which frames the road map for the solution of the Kurdish issue. The bill legalises negotiations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which will enable officials the immunity from legal, administrative and criminal charges, and details a reconciliation process for the members of the PKK.[/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”The Middle East and the region” opened=”closed”]Erdogan states that his government’s ambition to bring peace, democracy and prosperity to neighbours of Turkey and the region has been a state of instability due to several crises in recent years.

He argues that Egypt suffers from military tutelage which undermines state authority and that his presidency will support the people of Egypt and the toppled Morsi government. Referring to Syria and Iraq, Erdogan blames false politics and discriminatory governance for eruption of extremist groups in these countries.

Erdogan, referencing to Turkey’s support for Annan’s Plan for referendum in Cyprus in 2004 for a solution of the Cyprus issue and Turkey-Armenia reconciliation protocols in 2009, offers further diplomacy to implement peace, democracy and pluralism.

PM Erdogan has taken an ‘anti-Bashar al-Assad’ attitude since the Syrian unrest began in 2011.Erdogan commenting on the recent Israeli attack on Gaza causing over 600 deaths of mostly civilians stated that Turkey will not seek reconciliation with Israel until a ceasefire is achieved between sides and the Israeli embargo on Gaza is removed. The Turkish government also declared three days mourning for Palestinians killed in this conflict.

Erdogan has not separately commented on Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) as ISIS still holds Turkish diplomats of Turkey’s Mosul Consulate General hostage since early June 2014. Turkey’s Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTUK) implemented a court’s decision that reporting on the situation in Mosul is banned on media. The call for a ban had been initially advocated by Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Erdogan having taken a religious stance has called ISIS to release the hostages if they are ‘true Muslims’. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”Gezi Park Protests” opened=”closed”]Erdogan has severely opposed the Gezi Protests which took place in May and June 2013 against the government’s decision to build an Ottoman style shopping mall, but turned to a large public protest against police brutality due to the government’s harsh attitude. He has dismissed the protesters as ‘terrorists’ and claimed that the protests have been a part of a plot to topple his government. In his presidential campaign speech in Ordu, Erdogan called Gezi protestors ‘racists’.

Although it does not seem to be evidently linked, Erdogan claims that the corruption probes in December 2013 against several members of the government and himself are a continuation of the Gezi Protests, although it is alleged that the corruption probes were instigated by the Gulen movement. In his PVS, Erdogan denounces the US based Fettullah Gulen and his movement as ‘parallel state’ to destruct his government. None of the AKP members and the business people who were alleged to have dealt in corruption has stood trial. Murdered Gezi protesters’ trials continue. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”EU Accession Process” opened=”closed”]Erdogan vows to implement EU reforms, further democratisation and strengthen EU-Turkey relations. He calls 2014 the year of EU for Turkey. Erdogan has urged the EU to overcome its fears and prejudices against Turkey and to act more actively for Turkey related issues and the crises in the region. He states that his aim to achieve Turkey’s EU membership by 2023 that is the 100th anniversary of the Republic. The EU has been critical of the judicial independence due to recent political reforms on judiciary and restrictions of freedom of speech. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”Economy” opened=”closed”] Erdogan claims that Turkey’s economy has tremendously grown over the last decade. Erdogan’s interference in the Central Bank of Republic of Turkey (CBRT) with regards to monetary policies has caused controversies. International credit agencies have downgraded some Turkish banks although economy is stated to be stable. Iraq crisis might have detrimental effects on Turkish economy due to decreasing trade with the country.

On the way towards 2023, Erdogan promises economic prosperity if he becomes president. According to Erdogan’s vision for Presidency, Turkish economy will grow and build up from micro to macro. Each city will be a centre for production, investment and employment, where global brand cities will emerge. In order to increase production, it is suggested first to reduce Turkey’s dependency to imports. Also, Turkey needs to increase the value of the output in terms of technology in order to increase competitiveness, wight and power in worl economic relations. This could be achieved only by the policy that enables and empowers private sector. For this reason, a series of reforms that ensures productivity increase and competitiveness along with macroeconomic stability should be implemented.A comprehensive energy policy should also be activated in order to suffice our energy needs and we need to build economic synergy zones within our region and with our neighbours.

Other economic targets are in Erdogan’s PVS: maintain inflation and interest rates in single digits; increase annual export to $500 billion; increase per capita income to $25 thousands and annual GDP to $2 billions, transform Istanbul into a global trade and financial centre. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”Women’s Rights/Issues” opened=”closed”] Erdogan states in his PVS that women’s rights and prosperity is a critical matter for the future of Turkey. He adds that his government has implemented new bills to improve conditions of women economically and socially and that violence against women has not been tolerated. Erdogan says ban on wearing headscarves has substantially been abolished. Nevertheless, there is only one woman minister in the cabinet and Ministry for Women has been abolished by the AKP government. Instead, the only woman minister is responsible for family and social policies. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”The Alevi Issue” opened=”closed”] Erdogan in his PVS promotes brotherhood of all ethnic and religious groups in Turkey. He points out that he will not discriminate Alevis against Sunnis and adds that his government has apologised for Dersim massacre in 1938 which killed many Alevi Kurds. In addition to some Alevi issue workshops in the past, he has planned on meeting Alevis during his presidential campaign. Erdogan claims that the Alevi issue has not been consolidated as there is ‘no institution to represent Alevis’.

The Alevi issue, despite over a decade long successive AKP governments, remains to be one of the most critical issues amid the recent sectarianist developments in the region. The Alevi Bektasi Federation which is an influential organisation among Alevis in Turkey announced that they would not attend Erdogan’s Alevi iftar meeting. According to the Federation, the incumbent government has not met Alevis’ demands in years. Among several issues that Alevis encounter, Cemevis have not been recognised as official places of worship. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”The Armenian Issue” opened=”closed”] Erdogan references past attempts to reconcile with Armenians in his PVC: Turkey’s protocols with Armenia in 2009 and PM Erdogan’s condolences to Armenians for the mass killings under Ottoman rule during World War 1 in April 2014 on the eve of 99th anniversary of mass deportations of Armenians. However, there has not been a promise for the future of reconciliation with Armenians in his presidential campaign yet. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”LGBT Rights” opened=”closed”] There has been no reference to LBGT rights in Erdogan’s presidential vision statement. PM Erdogan had stated that LGBT rights and freedoms should be legally protected in his general elections campaign in 2002, however, discrimination against LGBT people remains with no promise of improvement by the government and the presidential candidate Erdogan. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle][tabby title=”Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu”]

Ihsanoglu promises “A respectful society that is less polarised and free of tensions”.

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”System of Governance” opened=”closed”] Ihsanoglu would like to keep the parliamentary system and the balance of powers outlined in the current constitution.

If he becomes President, Ihsanoglu stated that he would not attempt to increase the powers of the post. Making an allegory with the Ottoman times, he stated that since constitutional monarchy of the Ottoman Empire (2. Meşrutiyet), the Sultan (and today’s presidency) became more of a symbolic and balancing role. He said that he is against “giving sovereignty to a civilian sultan 110 years after the constitutional monarchy”.

In terms of secularism, in his interview with Talk to Al Jazeera in 2013, he said a challenge that the Muslim world is facing is how to balance the political and the religious sphere, to ensure that neither dominate the other. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”The Peace Process” opened=”closed”] Because of the fact that he is the joint candidate of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) alongside the Republican People’s Party (CHP), certain concerns arise about how far Ihsanoglu would be willing to go in terms of granting the rights or the kind of locally strong governance system demanded by the Kurds.

Ihsanoglu said that he supports the right to be educated in one’s mother tongue. As someone who has grown up in Egypt, he knows the importance of being able to speak one’s mother tongue.

He said peace needs to prevail and diplomatic solutions shall continue in full force. In this regard, the steps of solving the Kurdish issue must be agreed upon by the entire parliament. The flag and the unity must be preserved, however certain human rights must be granted to the Kurds.

As far as known, he has no previous relationship with the Kurdish political factions in Turkey, nor with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. This could be interpreted as someone outside of the game who may not know how to deal with the situation, or someone who is above the political bickering of different factions and who can bring some neutral human rights perspective to the discussions. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”The Middle East and the region” opened=”closed”] He emphasises cooperation and diplomacy in foreign relations, based on his professional background as the leader of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for 9 years. He said that if one takes sectarian sides in the Middle East, they will lose, thus must retain their neutral nature.

Yet, he clearly stated that he has never been and will never be neutral in the Israel – Palestinian conflict.

He disagreed with Erdogan in terms of interpreting the events in Egypt. He did not pose a pro or anti Sissi stance, rather criticised the method of a coup but attempted to facilitate between the factions of the Muslim Brotherhood and the new government.

He stated that Turkey has never experienced such disgrace in terms of foreign policy and that this needs to be fixed. Ihsanoglu promises to be a president who does not take sides in the Middle East and who works towards the cooperation of the hostile factions in the country. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”Gezi Park Protests” opened=”closed”] In 2013, he had responded to a question about the Gezi Protests saying he was against the cutting down of trees and he agreed with the starting point of the Gezi protests. However, he added that what Gezi turned into (the burning cars, looting shops) could not be accepted.

He recently expressed that he will not allow the youth to be called “chapulcu” (looters) and that he will stand by the youth against state oppression, as he had stood by the girls who wanted to wear their headscarf during the times of 28 February 1997 post-modern military coup. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”EU Accession Process” opened=”closed”] Ihsanoglu stated that EU accession is an important process for the development of Turkey. However, he stated that improving relations with EU countries shall not be done at the expense of relations with other countries.

Nevertheless, he does not agree with every freedom granted by a European society. He finds that a comic book on the life of the Prophet Muhammad is an abuse of freedom of expression. He said that “there is no absolute freedom” and that including Islamic content in cartoons cannot be accepted as a part of the freedom of expression. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”Economy” opened=”closed”] As a response to those who see Erdogan as bringing the stability needed for economic development, Ihsanoglu said: “I’d like to reach out the Turkish nation, do not be afraid. I will not do anything that will damage stability. On the contrary, I will cooperate with all parties including the AKP in order to retain stability.”

He added that he will not campaign for the presidency by promising new bridges. In Ihsanoglu’s words, the presidency is not an executive post, these are not the roles and responsibilities of the president.

He said the economic policies are not going to be in his sphere of rule, however he will guide the government and the country to stability that economic development and investment requires. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”Women’s Rights/Issues” opened=”closed”] In terms of highlighting the deficiencies of women’s rights in Turkey, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu emphasises the high number of child brides and male violence on women. He underlines his work at the OIC as proof of his activism in improving women’s rights. He founded the Independent Human Rights Commission and the Institute for Women’s Development while at the OIC. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”The Alevi Issue” opened=”closed”] He repeatedly stated that he was against any sort of sectarianism, including that perpetrated against the Alevis. He also added that he is receiving wide support from the Alevis. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”The Armenian Issue” opened=”closed”] Having been posed the question about his opinions on the 1915 events, Ihsanoglu did not use the word “genocide”. He said the 1915 events were very saddening, as well as the deaths of Turkish diplomats that occurred later. He said “the government’s expressing condolences is a correct and much needed move.” [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”LGBT Rights” opened=”closed”] To a question posed about his ability to represent LGBT and atheists, Ihsanoglu responded by saying that as the president of 76 million people he will not be able to ignore this reality. In Ihsanoglu’s words “Two points are important here; legal regulations and public sentiment. We must look at the regulations, consider the sensitivities of the public and find a balance between them.”

In an interview with Talk to Al Jazeera in 2013, Ihsanoglu answered the question on the Muslim sentiments about LGBT. His words exactly were: “This is a very special group of people. Here we have a problem. This is not a universal issue. In the West also, the institutions, the Vatican and churches they have their own reservation on this… In the Muslim world also, where religious feelings are stronger compared to the West, where religion has more impact on the societies. This issue becomes very thorny and problematic.” [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”Worker’s Rights” opened=”closed”]He said the workers must be granted their due rights, and the ILO must be seen as a source of guidance in this sense. He added that the principles of the EU as well as the ILO must be internalised. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle][tabby title=”Selahattin Demirtas”]

Demirtas promises ‘Radical Democracy and a New Life’

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”System of Governance” opened=”closed”] Demirtas claims that he is the only alternative to the current governing structure in Turkey. Irrespective of its name, whether it is federal, canton or autonomous regions, Demirtas proposes to decentralise the power of the government to local authorities. Municipalities, for example, should be able to tax business in their own regions and be responsible for social provisions such as education, health, traffic, sport facilities, agriculture and so on. Only in this way, Demirtas argues, local authorities could support local people to protect their culture, mother language and history, and ensure that people all around Turkey would live in a peaceful and just society.

In this respect, Demirtas finds centralisation of authority not suitable for the plural structure of Turkey. The risk of dictatorship increases if these posts are left unchecked. He argues that the authorities of president and prime minister should be limited. Instead of a state where all powers and authorities are centralised, Demirtas proposes to allocate authority to the chambers of local municipalities. He says that if he is elected, as a president he will have to consult to “people’s assemblies” of different identities such as women, Alevis, Armenians, environmental groups, workers and similar. This vision is still within the boundaries of a democratic parliamentarian system but with extended and strengthened mechanisms of checks and balances. The old statist approach which includes institutions such as the national security council will be replaced by the new publicist approach where peoples’ assemblies will be directly involved in policy making. This would create a state which would respect all identities. He believes in a system of governance in which the state is reduced but the rights and authorities of people are extended and democracy enhanced. His slogan could be translated as “The best government is the least ruling one”. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”The Peace Process” opened=”closed”]Contrary to the government and the main opposition parties, it seems Demirtas is clear in what to expect from the peace process and especially from the government. He defines the first requirement as constitutional change that recognises all identities and cultures in Turkey and guarantees their rights such as education in mother tongue, freedom of association and the access of different identities to the decision making processes. Only after these changes, the government should organise disarmament and dissolution of the PKK. These all should be done one after another and quickly.

The resolution of the Kurdish Question and democratisation are two processes that go hand in hand. The resolution of the Kurdish question will democratise Turkey and democratisation of Turkey will expedite the peace process. Demirtas promises to activate the will of peace that is present in the force of democracy and the political movement that he belongs to. He claims to bring radical democracy by which Turkey will fundamentally be democratised and the forced uniformities by the state will terminate. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”The Middle East and the region” opened=”closed”] The central inquiry in Demirtas’s foreign policy perspectives focused around the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq’s possible succession to the status of an independent state. Demirtas believes that Kurds in Iraq should decide for their own future and Turkey should respect and support their decision. Turkey has already strengthened its relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq and any possible succession should not damage these relations. This should not be read as Kurds in Turkey will be encouraged to succeed. On the contrary, Demirtas claims that his presidency is the obvious proof that Kurds in Turkey seek to be part of Turkey and its democratic decision making processes.

On the issue of foreign policy, Demirtas generally criticises the current neo-Ottoman desires to be a regional power and urges for a radical restructuring of foreign policy outside the minds of old military tutelage. According to Demirtaş’s criticisms, Turkey, on the one hand, attempts to be present in the Middles East policies by supporting sectarian conflicts and supporting ISIS, and on the other hand, suspending the reform and processes on the way to accession to EU. Demirtas locates the plurality, democracy and respect for different identities at the locus of his foreign policy. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”Gezi Park Protests” opened=”closed”] Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and the Kurdish movement were criticised because they did not support Gezi Protests explicitly in the midst of peace talks. One of the criticisms was that Demirtas accused the street protests as being racist. He explained this as a misunderstanding and further elaborated that they are not joining the protests with the same principles and would not stand by the sides of racists. He added that Gezi protests were rightful and they were at the centre of it.

In his presidency, Demirtas promises for youth assemblies in which young people can join politics and decision making in economic and social policies regarding education and unemployment. Instead of regarding youth as a criminal problem that needs to be contained, Demirtas believes that their problems require recognition and efforts to solve them. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”Economy” opened=”closed”] Demirtas has a more socialist discourse considering the economic agenda although he never mentions a total revolution of the proletariat. He says neoliberal policies restructured property, production and employment relations fundamentally. Poverty and unemployment became the chronic problems of Turkey and especially of youth.

Referring to the outsourcing of production, he says that production process was compartmentalised, rescaled and restructured with smaller units. He gives an example of the consequences of this neoliberal period in response to a question on the usage of illegal electricity in the south-east of Turkey. He says the illegal usage requires a more comprehensive approach than merely accusing those people as enemy of the state or getting orders from the PKK. This is directly related to poverty and without any structural solution to poverty it is impossible to prevent illegal usage. Demirtas believes that electricity should be distributed for free to the people living in poverty as part of their basic right. This is one of the duties of social state. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”Women’s Rights/Issues” opened=”closed”] Women’s rights constitute one of the main underlined topics of Demirtaş’s campaign. He pointed out that five women every day are murdered in Turkey. Adding that, a male dominant society that does not leave any space for women continues its slaughter of women. He emphasised that his movement is against any act of violence or discrimination against women. New life can only be achieved under the leadership of women. Every society is free in as much as its women is free. Demirtas also emphasised the need for positive discrimination in enhancing the role of women in society, as can be seen in the examples of the HDP leadership and similar Kurdish political movements. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”The Alevi Issue” opened=”closed”] On the Alevi issue, Demirtas expressed his complete support explicitly when he said that he wants whatever Alevis demand. He added that he is not the representative of Alevis but representative and defender of their demands. Cemevis should gain official recognition as a sanctuary and their history, culture and faith centres should be protected. Those which are confiscated by the state should be returned. Those who were in charge of the massacres in Sivas, Corum and Maras should be brought before the law.

Demirtas also argues that the Department of Religious Affairs should be demolished. He claims that this department has been a source of religious uniformism and oppression of freedoms for religious diversity.

All faith based identities such as Alevis, Christians, Jews and Yezidis should be liberated from social pressures and all the barriers before living freely according to their faith and philosophies should be replaced by plural democracy. State should terminate its uniform dominance on freedom of religion and faith with its single institution. Starting from text books, all discriminatory discourse that lead to hatred against different identities and religions should be removed from all documents and these should be penalised.

A liberal secularism that internalises freedom of religion and faith, that separates religion from the tutelage of the state, that prevents religion becoming a tool for politics, that allows those belong to a religion or not live equally and together, should be developed. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”The Armenian Issue” opened=”closed”] Demirtaş’s main approach to the Armenian issue is founded on a fundamental difference from other candidates. He does not see Armenian citizens as minorities but equal citizens of the Republic. The relative small number of population does not mean that they will have also less rights and freedoms. They are continuously discriminated and they suffered tremendously in the past. In this sense, Demirtas, believes that the atrocities in 1915 should be recognised as genocide. This should also not be viewed as genocide by Turks. It is the understanding of the government at that time and it does not exist anymore. Turkish state can still apologise to Armenians and contribute to the collective peace. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”LGBT Rights” opened=”closed”] The “new life”, Demirtas describes in his campaign speech, will flourish right next to the minorities whose voice has never been heard before. The new life will be based on plurality and solidarity of differences against unformism. LGBT rights are very important in this respect. LGBT individuals are ignored by the system due to their different sexual orientation or identity. Their very existence is seen as an offence and homophobia and transphobia are spurred. Demirtas offers that all sexual identities will be free and peaceful with their equal citizenship rights and without any discrimination in the new life. [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]

[otw_shortcode_content_toggle title=”Workers’ Rights” opened=”closed”] Defining his political stance primarily as leftist, Demirtas criticised neoliberal policies and structure of the production process in regard to current situation of workers. He says that flexible work, insecure outsourcing, uninsured working conditions steal not only from the labour of worker materially but also take their basic rights to live away. He added that he is aiming for a presidency that inspects workplace killings, child labour and conditions of seasonal workers and that works for the social right of those who are forced to work uninsured.[/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]