The Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) plans for the next presidential election may be complicated, according to political circles, in the wake of remarks made by the president's press advisor that indicated that Abdullah Gül may run for a second term in office in the elections scheduled for 2014.
Presidency Press Secretary Ahmet Sever, who is also President Gül's press and public relations advisor, said in an interview on Monday that the president is eligible for re-election, and he may announce his candidacy for the post of president in the next elections. Sever's remarks stirred domestic political circles in the Turkish capital, and sparked a heated discussion that is likely to dominate domestic politics for months if not years to come. Although Gül's advisor said his remarks were an expression of his personal opinion only, political circles in Ankara believe that they also reflect the president's own position since such critical comments could not have been expressed without his approval.
Sources close to the presidency agree that it was a message from Gül to the governing AK Party -- of which the president was a founding member -- and particularly to Erdoğan to express his resentment for being left out of scenarios for a political formation in the near future. Although Sever explicitly stated that the president was upset by Cabinet-led attempts to prevent his running for office again, sources close to the president believe that a public confrontation had better be avoided no matter how inconvenient the upsetting remarks were. Mehmet Altan, a journalist and a professor of economics, finds these remarks important as a “response to the inappropriate and disrespectful comments of AK Party members attempting to prevent Gül’s inclusion in future political calculations.”
When the Constitutional Court rejected in June an appeal filed by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) requesting the annulment of a law limiting the presidential term to seven years for incumbent Gül and said the president is eligible to run for another term, some AK Party members, who are also Cabinet members, said Gül is unlikely to announce that he will run in the 2014 presidential elections. According to Sever, such statements by Cabinet members upset the president.
Professor Fuat Keyman, director of the İstanbul Policy Center of Sabancı University, says he does not believe that Gül would run against Erdoğan, adding that Sever’s remarks should be considered an “expression of Gül’s discomfort with AK Party members’ unnecessary comments trying to block his road to the candidacy.” Agreeing that Gül would not run against Prime Minister Erdoğan if he announces his candidacy, an anonymous source close to Çankaya says, “The best option for the country would be a President Erdoğan-Prime Minister Gül formula, but at this point it is unclear how that would work out.”
There are growing public and political expectations that Erdoğan will run for the presidency in the 2014 elections and that he will make it to the Çankaya presidential palace. The prime minister has never made an implicit statement to this end, but has made indirect remarks to this effect on various occasions.
In an immediate reaction to the Sever interview on the same day, AK Party spokesperson Hüseyin Çelik pointed to the complete trust between Gül and Erdoğan and confirmed that he does not “believe Gül would run against Erdoğan if the latter decides to run for president.” In an effort to comfort supporters of the party, Çelik addressed those who expect a conflict over the presidential elections by saying that there would be no feud over the office between the president and the prime minister, who proved their brotherhood -- first in 2002 when Gül left the Prime Ministry for Erdoğan and then in 2007 when Erdoğan sacrificed his candidacy for president and announced Gül as his party’s candidate. Similarly, Keyman commented that he does not expect any political instability in Turkey due to the presidential elections in 2014.
Despite the early start of the debate over the presidency for 2014, Ankara analysts agree that there is still too much time ahead. Considering the high volatility of Turkish politics, coupled with the debate over the presidential system and the drafting of a new constitution, it is very likely that the presidential bid issue will continue to dominate Turkish politics, according to experts. As Altan states, “It is very difficult to make such a far-sighted projection on Gül’s candidacy, but it is important that his being an alternative [to Erdoğan] is clear now.”