Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu is considered the only candidate for president of Turkey who might be capable of competing seriously with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the post. İhsanoğlu is backed jointly by the opposition social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) — secularist-Kemalist — and the far right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
He has a reputation as straight-dealing and knowledgeable.
The CHP and MHP, in announcing he was their candidate to run for the presidency, said he “…is at peace with the foundations of our republic and the values of our dear nation. Our choice today is not one made by a single political party.”
Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu was born in Cairo in 1943. He’s 70. He has led an academic career, and became an expert on Ottoman and Islamic culture.
For 24 years, until 2004, he was head of the Centre for Islamic Historical, Artistic and Cultural research, and then in 2005 he was named Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
For that position, his conservative profile helped him win the support of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in government. The opposition, in naming him their candidate, exploited İhsanoğlu’s acceptability in AKP eyes in the hope of drawing away these votes to him.
Expert Yunus Emre said: “Turkish society is conservative, and this has been strengthened under the AK Party. So, instead of changing our principles and policies, if we nominate a conservative person, maybe we can get votes from the conservative electorate. We will see if it works.”
İhsanoğlu moves easily in the country’s various social levels. His university career is considered an asset, and many consider him a conciliatory figure.
İhsanoğlu said: “There is a duality, a polarisation and an alienation in our society. This cause problems in Turkey. People want to continue their life in peace and security. They want to increase their productivity. They want to be happy. For this we have to provide peace again. This can be done by eliminating escalation policies and replacing these with inclusive policies.”
In this presidential poll, for the first time Turkey will elect its head of state by direct universal suffrage. Some people think Prime Minister Erdogan could take advantage of this to try to change the way the country is run. İhsanoğlu is against that.
İhsanoğlu said: “I support the parliamentary system. That is how Turkey should be administered. This has been the system ever since the Turkish republic was established. This can be reformed of course, but giving all the power to a president will destabilise the state system. Turkey cannot accept this. Our model has been the European parliamentary system since modern Turkey began.”
As Erdogan’s de facto number one rival, İhsanoğlu also disagrees with the government’s foreign policy. He has not hesitated to criticise Ankara’s position in relation to recent regional developments.
İhsanoğlu said: “Turkish foreign policy is bigger and more important than personal ideologies and cannot be managed by personal ideas. Turkey is a major country. It cannot only concentrate on relations with the Middle East and the Islamic world; it needs to build better relations with the world. This can be pursued with mutual respect, observing mutual interests and balance. Turkey should not get into trouble with adventures and dreams. Our position is to serve Turkey in this direction and normalise its foreign policy. We cannot sacrifice Turkey’s foreign policy to personal whim.”
All in all, however, İhsanoğlu is not well known in Turkey. He is new to politics. This, clearly, could impact his score in the elections negatively.