Turkey’s worst-kept political secret was revealed when the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) announced that the current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, will be its official candidate to become the country’s next president. Six weeks ahead of the country’s first direct presidential elections, the AKP announced Erdoğan’s candidacy on Tuesday to a cheering crowd of party members. Erdoğan’s nomination, kept under wraps until Tuesday, has long been rumoured among political analysts and the media. The nomination was revealed at an extravagant and emotionally charged event in the capital, Ankara, where the prime minister’s long-time political ally Mehmet Ali Şahin, former parliamentary speaker and justice minister, addressed a more than 4,000 party members. Şahin stressed that the decision had been unanimous. “In order to designate a presidential candidate, at least 20 signatures of party MPs are needed,” he said. “We were able to gather all signatures of all our [party MPs].”
The deputy prime minister, Bülent Arinç, was unable to hold back his tears at the announcement, prompting mockery on social media.
The Turkish head of state was previously chosen by parliament but a 2010 referendum gave Turks the possibility to choose their president by a direct vote. For the first time more than three million Turks living abroad are also able to cast their ballot. The post has always been largely ceremonial, but Erdoğan has already announced that he wishes to increase the presidential powers.
Erdoğan, 60, has been in power since 2003. Barred by party rules to seek a fourth term as prime minister, he has faced multiple challenges to his 11-year-rule amid growing opposition to his authoritarian style. In response to allegations of corruption against the government and his close family, Erdoğan chose a divide-and-rule strategy, separating the country into loyalists and “traitors”. He purged the police and judiciary of critics and passed laws that weakened constitutional checks and balances on the executive.