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There is nothing quite like the buzz of an election in Turkey – or the sense of emptiness once the campaign has come to an end.
In the run-up to the big day, posters and banners are everywhere, mostly featuring the face of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is at the same time the country’s prime minister, president-elect and presiding political genius. Minivans fitted with sound systems clog the roads, blasting out campaign tunes, which in the case of Mr Erdogan largely consist of melodious invocations of his name.
And then it’s over: the banners disappear and normal traffic noises reassert themselves – including the screech of brakes and the tinkle of shattered glass.
But things are a little different this time around, in the wake of Mr Erdogan’s victory in the country’s first direct presidential election. The vote may be over but the real contest – to take over from him as prime minister and AK party leader– has just begun. Over the next two weeks, ahead of a special congress of the ruling party on August 27, Ankara and Istanbul will be thick with intrigue.
Who will Mr Erdogan tap as his successor as premier? Will it be a loyal follower or a more assertive figure? Will outgoing President Abdullah Gul, an old ally whose relations with Mr Erdogan have become increasingly tense, make his own bid to take charge of the party? And will Mr Erdogan himself embark on being markedly more ideological?
One early favourite to become prime minister is Ahmet Davutoglu, foreign minister, who in his past life as an academic suggested Turkey acquire “living space” in the broader region, and who sometimes grows misty-eyed at mentions of the Ottoman Empire’s accomplishments.
Meanwhile, by most accounts, Mr Erdogan will be accompanied in the presidential palace by Yigit Bulut, an economics adviser who once speculated that Lufthansa was behind anti-government protests last year and that the leader’s enemies were trying to kill him through telekinesis.
The battle over the next government is a different, less obvious kind of political fight than the high-decibel election that’s just past. But, since the result is far more uncertain than the outcome of the presidential poll was, it could turn out to be even more important.
The “Erdogan is everywhere” experience of Turkish elections is something that can take outside observers by surprise.
The AK party and its rivals appear to exist in different universes when it comes to organisation and resources. Mr Erdogan’s presidential bid claimed 33,000 volunteers and millions of supporters motivated by his government’s economic and social accomplishments. At the campaign’s close he announced he had raised almost seven times as much in donations as his closest contender and almost 50 times as much as the number three in the race.
Meanwhile, the team of Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Mr Erdogan’s main rival, relied on a couple of campaign buses tootling around the country’s cities.
On a recent visit to Antalya, a tourist resort that boasts it has more five-star hotels than any other city in the world – including one modelled on the Kremlin to attract Russian trade – the MC aboard Mr Ihsanoglu’s bus was reduced to calling out the names of cafés and ice-cream parlours on the largely empty streets. At one point so many dignitaries piled in after Mr Ihsanoglu that the elevator he was standing in refused to go anywhere – rather like his candidacy.
Short on nostalgia
The Financial Times recently caught up with Selahattin Demirtas, the third candidate in the presidential contest, at an MPs’ leisure complex on the coast of Istanbul.
The complex is chiefly distinguished by a museum devoted to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founder, who spent his summers there, in an art-deco lodge that stands on stilts above the waves.
Mr Demirtas’s presence at such a shrine seemed to symbolise how far he, an ethnic Kurd, has entered the country’s political mainstream. And a shrine it seems to be: the museum keeps a pair of Ataturk’s swimming trunks in an exhibition case.
It’s not yet clear whether the current leader’s football shorts will appear in any future Erdogan museum.
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