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August 07, 2012, Tuesday


One of the pseudo issues that have occupied public opinion and the mass media lately is the hidden but obvious competition between the incumbent president, Abdullah Gül, and the likely candidate for the position, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the prime minister.

Gül’s candidacy was endorsed despite heavy opposition from the military top brass and the secular bureaucracy (especially the judiciary). It was also subject to a lengthy calculation by the prime minister, who weighed the odds for and against his own candidacy, which could have affected the fortunes of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) if he had left the party while it was on the ascent. But with the prime minister’s endorsement and the support of the AKP, backed up by the people who wanted to shake of the military-bureaucratic tutelage, Gül was elected to the most prestigious post in the republic in 2007.

Since his election five years ago, Gül has evolved from a moderate politician to a reconciliatory and constructive statesmen. He has refrained from using some of the extraordinary powers put in the 1982 Constitution by the military for the presidency, which was designed to be presided over by a military man. He has tried to mitigate the excesses of the political class, which is overwhelmed by a single-party hegemony and ineffective opposition.

Yet the party he has emerged out of the ranks from has recently passed a law barring his second term candidacy. The obvious reason is the desire of the prime minister to replace him as the next president. But the rationale that is marketed is that the “brotherhood status” between the two men will (or has to) lead to a succession without competition.

This statement is problematic on two accounts. 1 -- What kind of brotherhood is it when a whole party is mobilized to pass a law to prevent the incumbent president from running for a second time? 2 -- Isn’t a personal agreement between two men to swap places a communal act rather than a popular democratic choice? How come two men can make such personal agreements and the largest party in the country endorses this act as the will of the people on ethical or political grounds? Let us for one moment surmise that they did, would the electorate see this as a democratic process? If they do, can Turkey call itself a mature democracy?

Given these facts, President Gül revealed his discontent with the efforts by his former colleagues to forfeit his second term candidacy through a statement from his press secretary, Ahmet Sever. Sever’s statement resonated widely, striking a chord that activated the spokesmen of the other party in this “brotherhood.” No wonder they all repeated the brotherhood argument to neutralize Gül’s candidacy.

Let us for one moment think that Gül will forgo the chance of being elected once again to the post he has successfully filled so far on the grounds of brotherhood, loyalty or being obliged to return the favor to the man who made him president. Is it ethical to ask this of him? For none of these concepts are political, but emotional.

Secondly, the power of the incumbent AKP comes from the lack of effective rivals. It is expected that later on mistakes like the bombing of citizens in Uludere, taking ideological positions in the near abroad and deviating from the original principles of representing the underdog, ending torture and corruption, improving the qualities of democracy, establishing the rule of law and ending the tutelage role of the state over society (refraining from deciding for other religious groups, taking an ambiguous position in match rigging, enforcing cultural preferences on abortion, method of childbirth and number of children) will slowly work to build an internal opposition within the AKP which would eventually find its match in the wider body politic. Can this opposition eventually find their leader in Gül, or vice versa?

Brotherhood is fine, but what about fairness and ethical competition representing the more exalted principles of society and political vocation? The answer to this vital question will evolve over the next two years, that is, until the next presidential race.

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