GUL REMINDS ALL HE IS AROUND

Today's Zaman
July 31 2012
Turkey

YAVUZ BAYDAR
[email protected]

Enter Shakespeare. Knocking at the stage door, his question is a kind
whisper, "Can two brothers in arms turn into adversaries?" Take it
for granted that he knows the answer.

After a long, patient silence, the president of the republic, Abdullah
Gul, let his press secretary, Ahmet Sever, speak out. In an interview
with the Vatan daily, Sever spoke in detail about the disappointment
and sadness Gul felt about the political maneuvering which took place
in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the length of his
tenure, his eligibility for a second term being questioned by people
close to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his frustrations on
two unresolved issues: Turkey's Kurds and rapprochement with Armenia.

The president's message meant that he had decided to break his silence
and it was still up to him whether or not he would continue to be
part of the shaping of major components of Turkish politics. He felt
that he needed to express these views.

So the Shakespearean question is whether or not the historic alliance
between Gul and Erdoğan, the two main architects of the AKP story,
has entered a new phase where rivalry replaces brotherhood in arms.

Erdoğan is already in an election mood. From his own vantage point
he promised to be out of Parliament after three consecutive election
periods, so he is eyeing a strengthened presidency with extended
executive powers. He sees the process of drafting a new constitution
as a grand opportunity to change Turkey's decades-old political
system. In his vision, Turkey ought to be managed under a president
with a weak or no prime minister.

But leaving politics and jumping into uncharted waters is not at all
easy under the circumstances. The new entry into politics, namely the
AKP, 10 plus years old, also needs to be protected, institutionalized.

Earlier experiences under two presidents, Turgut Ozal and Suleyman
Demirel, have taught Erdoğan that it is easier to climb the pedestal
of presidency than keeping the party that paves the way to it intact.

Ozal's Motherland Party (ANAVATAN) and Demirel's True Path Party
(DYP) today are history.

Erdoğan's search, deviation and shift towards the traditional
nationalist conservative bloc is to be seen in this context. His
election mood will be defined by populism to appeal to those voters,
and mergers. His dialogue with the leader of the Voice of the People
Party (HAS Party), Numan Kurtulmuş, will most probably lead to an
abolishment of the HAS Party and he may continue to dig into the
two other minors in that bloc; the Grand Unity Party (BBP) and the
Felicity Party (SP).

Gul seems to have been irked by this search, which continues as
though he does not exist at all. He was apparently irritated that
the two polls which were recently published simply left off his
name in the list of possible candidates for the next presidential
elections. From his vantage point he was right: It was either the
pollsters who "ignored" including his name in the questionnaires or
the newspapers which censored it.

The interview not only made clear the disappointment Gul felt because
a number of high-ranking AKP officials have lately implied that
"he would not stand as a presidential candidate in the 2014 elections."

Gul maintains his traditional silence on the matter, but leaves the
door fully open for a candidacy.

Gul, always the smooth operator, a gentle and conscientious soul,
should be given the right. He was treated shamelessly, disrespectfully,
by being left in political limbo as Parliament dragged its feet in
deciding whether or not he would serve five or seven years, until
very recently. His virtues and running of the office is clear proof
that he deserved none of that.

But his choices, he knows, will help define the path Turkey takes in
the decades to come. Whatever he decides will have deep consequences.

Will he remain in active politics? As a keen observer of the AKP for
years, my hunch would be yes. But in what form, it is hard to say.

Some critics have pointed out that Gul's move came at an unfortunate
time during the troubles in Syria, the Kurdish unrest and all that.

But others say that it was timed perfectly to widen the debate before
the AKP congress which is due next month. Gul apparently wants to
see how he is viewed in the party he co-founded, and how it, as a
massive political machine, plans for the future. He may desire to
be part of a new negotiation with Erdoğan, to come back to his old
"driving engine" position.

He may, in the end, declare his run for the presidency for a second
term. And if he does, Erdoğan's careful calculations of votes and
engineering of the percentages will need a revisit. It may even lead
to a shelving of the presidential system. It may cause unexpected
cleavages within the post-Islamist segment, new alliances vs. old
ones. Gul knows he cannot be underestimated as a political player.

Given that, Erdoğan would choose not to jeopardize an old friendship
and would tell the members of the AKP to treat him with full respect.




From: A. Papazian