Turks Vote as Erdogan Seeks to Prolong Reign

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured 54 percent of the votes with three-quarters of the ballot boxes opened, taking him closer to victory in the country’s first direct presidential election, according to preliminary results published by Cumhuriyet newspaper.

The state-run news agency Anadolu gave Erdogan a similar total. His likely win would enable him to extend his 11-year-long leadership of Turkey with a move to the presidential palace. Erdogan must secure more than 50 percent of the vote and beat Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, who is backed by several opposition parties, and Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the country’s pro-Kurdish party.

Ihsanoglu and Demirtas won 37.1 percent and 8.7 percent of the votes respectively, Cumhuriyet said. The presidency has been held since 2007 by Abdullah Gul.

Erdogan, 60, has promised to turn the largely ceremonial post of president into a new and more powerful role. His revitalization of the economy, which grew an average of 5 percent over the past 11 years, has coincided with a more authoritarian style of rule. Turkey last year was the world’s leading jailer of journalists, according to a Committee to Protect Journalists census.

“There is little doubt that Erdogan will seek to govern Turkey from Cankaya palace as an executive president,” Anthony Skinner, head of analysis at Maplecroft, a U.K.-based global risk forecasting company, said in an e-mail.

New Powers

As prime minister Erdogan has established himself as Turkey’s most powerful leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern state in 1923, while steadily rolling back his predecessor’s secular legacy. Erdogan will likely win, possibly in the first round, major polls showed before a publication ban on their results came into effect.

“It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Erdogan will win,” said Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at the Brussels-based Carnegie Europe research center.

On Aug. 6, Erdogan told a crowd of supporters in the southwestern city of Mugla that “Turkey will be one of the world’s 10 biggest economies by 2023” under his watch and vowed to continue cracking down on political foes.

Erdogan has indicated that he will use existing presidential powers more freely to convene cabinet meetings, while pushing for the adoption of a new constitution to enhance the office.

Erdogan’s growing power over the state has upset some Turks who plan to use the vote to register their protest.

“I’m voting for Ekmeleddin. I can’t say I’m doing it willingly, it’s an anti-Erdogan vote,” Aydin Durma, a 43-year-old waiter in Istanbul, said yesterday. “Concentrating that much power in a single role isn’t healthy. I think we’re in for a couple of bumpy years.”

Turkey Protests

If elected, Erdogan, will have to step down as leader of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to assume the presidency on Aug. 28. The party is required to pick a new leader at an extraordinary congress within 45 days of Erdogan’s resignation as leader. The new party chief is then appointed to head the government by the president.

“Turkey’s next premier will be someone who does not challenge Erdogan’s agenda and decisions,” Skinner said.

Erdogan’s final months as prime minister were marred by protests over the redevelopment of an Istanbul park, a corruption scandal and a mining disaster that claimed 301 lives. The lira fell to a record and yields climbed after graft allegations first surfaced in December, sparking an investigation into government practices.

Deeper Challenges

“All kinds of plots have been set up against our prime minister, but he has emerged clean from them all,” Ahmet Obuz, a 27-year-old municipal worker, said today in Ankara’s Akdere district. “An administration which gives us bread and jobs will prevail at the highest office.”

Erdogan denied any wrongdoing, calling the accusations a coup attempt. Thousands of police officers, bureaucrats and prosecutors were subsequently removed in purges following the probe. Public anger over a mine accident in the town of Soma resulted in Erdogan being jeered by miners’ families on a visit to the town.

The Turkish lira appreciated for a first time in four days on Aug. 8, strengthening 1 percent to 2.1452 against the dollar. In the past year, the lira is the fourth-worst performer among the major currencies tracked by Bloomberg, depreciating about 10 percent.

Deeper challenges remain for Erdogan as he seeks to extend his record of economic growth. The country’s current-account shortfall reached 7.5 percent of gross domestic product in the first quarter of 2014. That is the biggest deficit among the so-called fragile five emerging-market economies, which include South Africa, Indonesia, India and Brazil, that are most vulnerable to a withdrawal of foreign investment needed to finance their deficits.

Policy Challenges

Erdogan also faces foreign policy challenges presented by conflicts in Syria, Iraq and over the Gaza Strip. He has become increasingly outspoken about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. On Aug. 3, he said that “just as Hitler wanted to establish the Aryan race in Germany, the Israeli state is chasing after the same dream over there.”

After he used similar language in July, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Erdogan had “quite frankly hurt Turkey’s international standing,” and was undermining the country’s ability to play a constructive role in the region.

“Leaving aside the uncertainties raised by this unprecedented shift toward a de-facto executive presidency, investors should brace themselves for a more erratic, intrusive and opaque style of policy making and governance,” Wolfango Piccoli, managing director at Teneo Intelligence in London, said in an e-mail on Aug. 6. It is “likely to affect the quality of the country’s business environment and the working of key regulatory bodies and institutions.”

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