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Opinion: The President Turkey Needs | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A girl holds a Turkish national flag as she visits the mausoleum of Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, in Ankara. (Reuters)

On August 10 Turkey will go to the polls to elect a new president. This is a first for the Turkish people. An election that parliament used to conduct in silence, in a traditional and symbolic way, now lies with the people. The presidential election will now neither be a quiet affair, nor a traditional or symbolic one.

The candidates will have to prove themselves to the people. Their promises, slogans and personas will be under constant scrutiny. In the lead-up to the polls their every move will determine Turkey’s news agenda.

But before we look into their rhetoric and appeal, we need to ask what kind of president Turkey really needs.

The election comes at a crucial time for Turkey. The country is on the front line of Middle East politics and its citizens are influenced by both Islamic culture and the European liberal secular system. At the same time, Turkey has continued to pursue a mission of bringing democracy to Islamic countries and freedom to the oppressed.

The Turkish president must therefore be decisive, while avoiding any action that will worsen the state of play in the Middle East. The president will have to understand the mood of the Turkish people.

The president must have a vision. If a head of state has no vision, there is a strong possibility the people he represents will become apathetic. A passive and weak-willed people in Turkey will spell the collapse of the country, and by extension, the entire Middle East.

Zeal is a must. The new leader should look at finding solutions to the problems in Middle Eastern countries as they would in Turkey. The president needs zeal to strengthen democracy in Turkey and then export it.

The president must be religious. The Turkish nation is religious, in addition to being secular and democratic. No system that relegates religion to second place has ever succeeded in the country, nor can it.

But at the same time the president needs to embrace atheists, agnostics, leftists and others who don’t share the same religious views. There should be no differentiation of one from the other.

Women should be afforded equal treatment. The first condition for a society to prosper is for women to be valued and that their voices are heard in all sections of society.

The president must value the arts and artists. The most important feature of a “European Turkey” is that it is built on freedom, modernity and intellectualism.

The president must be firm and patient, slow to anger, and aware that others may think differently.

The president must not forget the intermediary role naturally assumed by Turkey and know that there is no room for anger in a system that brings peace through mediation. They must seek ways of winning people—and other countries—over through love, instead of rejecting them in anger.

The old status quo and the paternalism of past presidents should be abandoned. Turkey is growing, but it detests the old paternalistic system. And if things don’t change we may see more protests in the same vein as those that took place in Gezi Park.

The new president must speak of change, this should not be limited to domestic policy, but must also include a new Middle East policy.

The successful candidate must not regard themselves as being above the nation, but must be one of the people. The public wants to be represented by them.

The leader must preserve Turkey’s moral values. Hosting refugees, for example, has always been a source of pride for us. Morals that deviate from these and other values will harm society.

The president must never, ever be divisive.

The three presidential candidates Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu and Selahattin Demirtaş certainly meet some of these conditions in one capacity or another, but it is not actually that hard to meet them all. In the same way that secularism and intellectualism are no obstacle to religious devotion, being one of the people does not prevent you from adopting European art and culture.

A leader can be both strong and lovable and sincerely adhere to Mustafa Kamal Atatürk’s principle of secularism while being religious. An intellectual need not refrain from reciting the Qur’an and praying. On the contrary, these things can complement one another.

There is no need for long speeches to demonstrate these qualities. Often a single word or deed is all it takes to conquer people’s hearts. This presidential election is no ordinary election; it is totally reshaping Turkey’s political environment and this also means a new vision for the Middle East. It requires a strong display from Turkey in its foreign policy. All policies should be methodically reviewed and adapted and above all, old customs should be abandoned. The whole Middle East will soon see that great things will happen in Turkey following the first direct election of the president by the people.