The upcoming ascension of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to his country’s highest state office marks an historic turning point for modern Turkey. Looking back decades from now, historians might say this presidential election was the beginning of a new era.
It’s almost certain that Mr. Erdogan will be elected president. The only question is whether he will receive a majority of votes on Sunday or be forced into a run-off two weeks later.
This is the first time in the 91-year history of the Turkish Republic that citizens will directly choose their president, not Parliament. Mr. Erdogan sees it as a popular mandate and won’t settle for serving only as ceremonial head of state, which the presidency in Turkey has been up to now. What’s more, he plans constitutional changes that would give the president new far-ranging powers.
The prime minister, now in his third term and unable to seek a fourth, lacks a majority in Parliament for such a radical change to the constitution. But he could use the victory in the presidential election to call quickly for new parliamentary elections and consolidate his power.
Mr. Erdogan has already governed Turkey for 11 and a half years – longer than any prime minister since the beginning of the multi-party era in 1946. Since the days of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the modern Turkish state, no other politician has made such a mark on the country. With the presidency and planned constitutional changes, Mr. Erdogan would wield the kind of power held only before by the “Father of the Turks” himself.
But Mr. Erdogan can be a polarizing leader.