Çankaya plans

It appears President Abdullah Gül's remarks during his visit to India that "this Parliament has missed the opportunity to pass a new constitution" has bothered or at least offended some Justice and Development Party (AK Party) members. But there's nothing offensive or disturbing about Gül's statement.

The reason is simple: The July 2007 election gave birth to one of the most representative parliaments, representing 87 percent of the nation. The election was an indication of the people's demand for "change." It would have been appropriate for the current Parliament to throw away the 1982 Constitution, which was drafted in the wake of a coup. But it failed. It failed to reach a compromise over changing the Constitution, which is a shame. Like old Turkish political parties, the AK Party, which is the political leg of the great social transformation in Turkey, has been forced to lead the country with a "coup constitution."
So is Gül wrong in expressing regret? Why were some AK Party members then "bothered" by Gül's words? Should we look for the reasons for this distress in the presidential election slated for 2012? Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previously announced that the general elections to be held most likely in April or May of next year will be the last time he will run as a parliamentary candidate. Ever since he made that announcement, people have been taking it as a sign that Erdoğan will run as a candidate in the 2012 presidential election. This is a very rational assessment.

Another view that many commentators unanimously agree on is that 2012 will be the last chance for Erdoğan to reach the 864-meter-high hill, in other words, the Çankaya presidential palace. He could have competed in the 2007 presidential elections as a candidate, but he didn't because of unfavorable internal political balances. Instead, he nominated "his brother Gül" as a candidate for Çankaya, making it one of the very rare cases of sacrifice in the history of Turkish politics. But it's also a fact that Erdoğan could not really stand behind his decision at that time due -- once again -- to the political balances. If Gül had not insisted on being a candidate as much as he did because he was confident that the results would be in his favor, there would probably be someone else in the Çankaya palace right now. This nuance in 2007 is so important that it can even define the dynamics of the 2012 presidential election. How? Well, Gül does not feel indebted to Erdoğan for being president because Erdoğan failed to stand behind his candidacy in the last elections. So naturally -- and fairly -- Gül feels he has the right to run as a candidate in the 2012 election.

The 2012 presidential election will hold a unique place in the history of Turkish politics because the new president will be elected by popular vote. Even the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. did not have the privilege of becoming "number one" by being directly elected by the people. No one will be able to remain immune to such a "historic honor." It may seem strange to have the people elect the president in a political structure where a parliamentary democratic system prevails, but it should also be seen as the first step towards shifting to the "semi-presidential system" that many politicians, starting with the late Turgut Özal, wanted. We will see how Turkey is going to maintain both systems.

The messages people are sending each other through the media that we are observing these days should be seen as a precursor to even more fierce debates that will occur after the 2011 elections. The results of the general elections to be held in 2011 will determine the fate of the 2012 presidential election.

Will Çankaya and the government continue to show the prudence to maintain the "harmony" between each other as Turkey gradually moves towards general elections? This country has suffered much because of fights between presidents and prime ministers. These fights began in the 1990s by Süleyman Demirel, who reacted against Özal's presidency and continued between Demirel and Prime Minister Tansu Çiller, and President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and the late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit. Turkey has lost time and energy as a result of these fights.

These fights, just like the recent altercations we saw in Parliament, are images that belong to the "old Turkey." The new Turkey does not have any tolerance for "images of conflict" in Parliament or between Çankaya and the government.

13 February 2010, Saturday