Gul tells Erdogan he’s still in the game
The first thing that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan did after getting elected as the country’s 12th president on Sunday was to call the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) main executive body for a meeting on Monday.
His plan was simple: Erdogan wants to design his party and the government before he officially takes over the presidency from Abdullah Gul on August 28.
Despite speculations about the need for a highprofile name to succeed him in order to change the Constitution to introduce a strong-presidential regime - instead of the current parliamentary one - Erdogan now has changed priorities.
He mainly has two criteria for the new AK Party chairman who will also lead the government as prime minister:
1- To work in harmony with the president and not attempt to steal his role,
2- To carry the party successfully through to the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for June 2015.
It is true that many in the AK Party think Gul is the best option both for keeping the party together and also for keeping it in power. But Gul is a strong name with a high international and domestic profile, which would not remain silent and in the shadows.
The AK Party will anyway need a new chairman, as Erdogan has to leave the post by August 28. It would also help to exclude Gul’s name from the list, because according to the constitution, the prime minister has to be a member of parliament. That would be a useful side effect in Erdogan’s power game.
But Gul has made it clear that he is not planning to retire from politics after completing his term as president, telling a group of reporters right in the middle of the decision-making meeting in the AK Party that it would be natural for him to return to the party that he was a co-founder of.
This was like a “Remember, I am still in the game” message to the meeting chaired by Erdogan.
The answer from the meeting came in just an hour, from party spokesman Huseyin Celik: They had decided to hold the congress to elect a new chairman (thus to be given office to form a Cabinet by Erdogan right after August 28) a day before the official handover ceremony; with the congress to be held on August 27.
Celik was going on the record by welcoming Gul’s decision, but the party’s decision was telling Gul that it would not be possible for him to lead the party and the government - at least for now, maybe later. The new chairman and prime minister would now be picked by Erdogan. Gul’s move came at an unexpected time for Erdogan, just as he was celebrating his victory as Turkey’s first ever president to be elected by popular vote. Gul has reminded Erdogan that despite his 51% support, there are still political and legal balances that he has to watch. He also gave a strong message to Erdogan that the winner cannot take all, at least not always. It is a fact that Gul has supporters in the AK Party who are not happy at all with the one-man-rule attitude of Erdogan. Gul has also told them that there might be alternatives if the doors of the AK Party’s direction room are shut to them.
There are always surprises in Turkish politics.