Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been the Prime Minister of Turkey for 11 years. He would have done better to take a step back now, but Mr. Erdogan wants to move on to become the country’s first directly elected president. His explicit intention is to introduce a Gaullist-style, executive presidential system, to replace a hitherto mainly ceremonial presidency. Mr. Erdogan’s aggressive personality, which is increasingly visible, makes this an alarming prospect.
The first and quite likely the final round of the presidential election will take place on Sunday.
Mr. Erdogan’s accomplishments are considerable. Turkey’s democracy is no longer under the supervision of the military, as it had been since 1920. His Justice and Development Party (AKP), to a large extent based on the owners of middle-sized businesses, has diminished the statist element in the country’s economy. Ethnic Turkish nationalism has been played down, too; that has facilitated a welcome degree of accommodation with the Kurds. And though the AKP has a religious support base, Mr. Erdogan went to Egypt after the Tahrir Square demonstrations of 2011 and preached the virtues of secularism, on television.
Even so, it was never going to be easy to convert the AKP into the equivalent of a Western European Christian Democratic party. Mr. Erdogan is no Angela Merkel or Mariano Rajoy.
This past Sunday, Mr. Erdogan became horrifically demagogic at an election rally in Istanbul, speaking about the Gaza war: “Just like Hitler, who sought to establish a race free of all faults, Israel is chasing after the same target. They kill women so that they will not give birth to Palestinians.” And so on, from the leader of a country that not long ago was on good terms with Israel.
It’s uncomfortably like Mr. Erdogan’s earlier, more militant Islamist life in the 1990s.
The other presidential candidate, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a former academic and diplomat, supported by the two main opposition parties, would be better – rather like a Canadian governor-general. Mr. Erdogan is well ahead in the polls, but let’s hope that he will at least be chastened by having to face another round in Sunday’s election. The executive presidency to which he aspires would require a constitutional amendment. With any luck, it won’t achieve the necessary supermajority.