Erdoğan is considered a potential candidate for the presidency even if he has not yet openly declared an intention to run. However, it is not expected that Gül will run for the position if Erdoğan declares his intention to do so. It is highly possible that Gül will then return to politics in order to become prime minister. Yet this most likely scenario is not going to be easily or smoothly implemented as there would be a fierce debate within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) over the prime ministerial position while other political parties attempt to change the scenario in their favor.
The Constitutional Court rejected on Friday an appeal filed by the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) requesting the annulment of a law dating 2007 setting the presidential term for Gül at seven years. The law had been passed in Parliament, thanks to the AK Party's majority of votes, in the same year Gül became president. The court also annulled part of the law that barred Gül from running for another term, saying it is unconstitutional to limit his rights. Therefore, pursuant to the court's decision, Gül will serve seven years in office, ending in 2014, and can then run for another term for five years.
Leading AK Party members, such as Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ, who were among the architects of the earlier law to limit Gül's term to seven years in order to pave the way for Erdoğan to stand in the presidential election criticized the Constitutional Court's ruling that Gül can run for another five years. The fact that several influential names within the AK Party, which Gül played a significant role in creating, took up an attitude against him on the issue of the presidential election by adopting this law hurt Gül deeply, say his close associates.
Gül is not upset that his term has been limited to seven years but rather is uneasy that his name is being used in the presidential election issue by certain party members. Furthermore, Gül is suspected to be upset because Erdoğan, a close friend he encouraged to join the AK Party while Erdoğan was still the mayor of İstanbul, has not stopped senior party members from being vocal against Gül or from targeting him by openly criticizing the court decision that paves the way for Gül to stand for another five years after his term expires in 2014.
However, nobody expects the two old friends to compete in the presidential race. Gül will withdraw his candidacy for the presidency for another five years in 2014 if Erdoğan declares his candidacy. But there is one hurdle that could keep this most probable scenario from happening, and it is the uncertainty over Erdoğan's health by then. After two intestinal operations prompted months-long speculation that he was gravely ill and had cancer, which Erdoğan denied, this powerful Turkish prime minister has been doing quite well and returned to his extremely active political life. Still, intestinal diseases carry a risk of leading to cancer. It is not a desirable outcome for Erdoğan to become seriously ill and thereby be prevented from active engagement in politics or standing for the presidency. But if this worse case scenario takes place, Gül will definitely declare his candidacy for the presidency in 2014 to run for another five years.
What kind of strategy will Gül pursue if he withdraws from the presidential race in favor of Erdoğan? He will most probably return to politics and seek to become prime minister. This would not be an easy undertaking considering the much-expected fierce battle to take place within the party for the prime ministerial position. Additionally, someone like Erdoğan, who would like to continue asserting power over the party even if he becomes president, would not get along well with a prime minister like Gül, who would not allow anyone to dictate his policies for the executive that he would head.
Nevertheless, for Gül to become prime minister in 2014, he would have to be elected as a deputy. General elections are scheduled to take place in 2015 if an early election is not called. In this case, Gül would be expected to wait a year and then stand with an AK Party ticket to become a deputy. Returning to politics by public support in 2015 would strengthen Gül's hand in becoming prime minister, say well-informed sources. Between 2014 and the general elections in 2015, an AK Party deputy to whom President Erdoğan could dictate policy could be prime minister, according to scenarios being discussed in Ankara.
In the final analysis, Gül appears to be the best choice for prime minister if Erdoğan becomes president because he is renowned for his democratic stance. As a veteran politician, he also has the potential to prevent a serious division that may occur within the AK Party, which is in power for its third term following last year's general elections.