President Abdullah Gül is one of three major figures of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which sprung from the National View (Milli Görüş) tradition and which was established after the postmodern coup of Feb. 28, 1997, which mainly targeted the representatives and economic enterprises of religious groups. These politicians had established the AK Party after becoming alienated in 1997 from the National View tradition which had previously produced such now-defunct parties as the National Salvation Party (MSP), the Welfare Party (RP) and the Virtue Party (FP).
The AK Party won the first elections it entered on Nov. 3, 2002, and, since then, has been at the helm of the country. The leading figures of this party have been, of course, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Abdullah Gül and Bülent Arınç. This trio has successfully exhibited an unprecedented level of solidarity and coordination in the face of the numerous “deep state” operations that targeted them. In 2007, the tutelary powers tried to prevent Gül from being elected president, but the general public responded to them in the referendum. These powers wanted to block Gül because his wife wore a headscarf. Yet, the main reason was the privileged, neo-nationalist (ulusalcı) Kemalist elites’ unwillingness to hand over political power to the general public. This was what the propaganda phrases such as “Shariah is coming” or “Modern lifestyles and secularism are at stake” actually intended to achieve.
The fact that Gül was elected president before it was decided in a referendum that presidents should be elected to five-year terms left Gül’s status unsettled. For a long time, the government avoided making a legal ruling to address this matter. The question was whether the old law or the new one would apply to Gül. Was his tenure five or seven years? Was he entitled to be elected for a second term? Although the ruling AK Party had the power to clarify this matter, it allowed this uncertainty to linger for a long time. The Constitutional Court has now put an end to this debate. The presidential elections will be held in 2014 and Gül will be entitled to run for a second term.
The overall conviction was: Erdoğan wanted to introduce a presidential system if possible, and to become president, and if this could not be done, he planned to become president with reinforced powers and authority. At this point, Gül had no place in this vision.
Recently, the president’s official spokesman, Ahmet Sever, gave an interview to Ruşen Çakır of the Vatan daily. Gül is known for refraining from making comments about this matter. But this is not limited to Gül only. The spokesman had never made such a clear statement. Indeed, Sever said: “In this process, there were many developments that upset the honorable president.” He did not show it but the efforts to introduce a ban to prevent him from running for a second term in office really made him sad and disappointed him. Despite the fact that the Constitutional Court held that such a ban would be in breach of the Constitution, some people raised objections and denounced the court’s own decision as unconstitutional. The president has taken care and is still taking care not to give the impression that he is in conflict with the honorable prime minister. It was not befitting for some major figures of the party not to take care in a similar fashion, but to instead make indiscreet remarks.”
Sever couldn’t have made this statement without getting permission from President Gül. And this means Mr. Gül is very upset and has wanted to comment.
Can we take this statement as proof that he will run for a second term even if this will be against Erdoğan’s wishes? Many argue that Gül will not attempt this because of confidence-based relations between the prime minister and him and of the fact that Erdoğan had “self-sacrificially” allowed him to become president in 2007. AK Party deputy Hüseyin Çelik said he would expect Gül to not run for a second term in office out of loyalty and indebtedness to Erdoğan. This was the government’s move against Gül.
Let us put everything into its proper place. In 2007, Erdoğan refrained from running for president not because of his magnanimity but because he felt it would be better if he continued being at the helm of the government. Up to the last moment, he was eager to run for president. On the other hand, it was easier to make tutelary powers accept Gül, who practiced a sort of soft power. There would be less resistance to him. To be a weak president wouldn’t have suited Erdoğan amid the reforms and fight against tutelage.
But now the AK Party believes that it has dominion over the state, and according to the party bylaws, Erdoğan has to leave his membership in Parliament for one parliamentary term. Moreover, as president, he may continue to rule the country in a de facto manner with a prime minister who would be loyal to him.
So it is clear that the story is not much about loyalty or indebtedness. This is why I believe we can expect a surprise move from Gül.