It is true that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül are two of the three founding fathers of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), the third being Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç.
It's also true that Erdoğan relied on Gül to leave the government when he was banned from politics and then stepped down voluntarily to the Foreign Ministry post, and it was Erdoğan who nominated Gül as president to establish a harmonized executive branch together.
However, certain discrepancies have started to surface between the two longtime fellows as the country approaches the critical presidential elections in August of this year, especially over the last nine or 10 months. I know we are five days ahead of the March 30 local elections, but for a better understanding of the bigger picture, it is good to keep in mind that the real political equation in Turkey is about the presidential elections.
It is likely that the discrepancies could become more obvious after the March 30 locals, as Gül is hesitant to say much before them in order not to be accused by the prime minister of being partly responsible for a possible unfavorable result for Erdoğan.
Here are seven differences, as of now, between the pictures of Gül and Erdoğan:
1- The Gezi difference: When the police started to use disproportionate force against the Gezi protesters in June 2013, Gül stressed that democracy was not only about the ballot box, that peaceful assembly was a part of it, and he had taken the message. Erdoğan, on the other hand, said he did not know which message the president received, claiming that Gezi was a coup attempt by global forces and interest rate lobbies and saying the police were heroic.
2- The corruption difference: When the graft probe of Dec. 17, 2013 started, Gül said the corruption allegations should not be covered up and should be brought to independent courts. Erdoğan said the graft probe was only an excuse for a coup attempt, this time by Gülenists, accusing his former ally, U.S.-resident moderate Islamist scholar Fethullah Gülen.
3- The Gülen difference: According to Erdoğan, Gülen has secretly become organized within the judiciary and bureaucracy during the AK Parti's years in government. It is an “espionage organization.” So Gülen's global network of schools (known abroad as "Turkish schools") should be closed down too. As far as we know, Turkey has asked at least Germany, Azerbaijan
and the Kurdish federation in Iraq to close them. Gül, however, said he was against any illegal formation within the government, but added that Turkish schools abroad should be kept out of the debate.
4- The Berkin difference: When 15-year-old Berkin Elvan died on March 11 as a result of a tear gas casing hitting his head nine months ago during Gezi, and when 22-year-old Burakcan Karamanoğlu was killed on the night of Berkin’s funeral, Gül asked the government to find the killers of both and praised their fathers, who called each other in solidarity against any "provocative" actions. According to Erdoğan, Berkin was a potential terrorist and Burakcan was a martyr.
5- The Twitter difference: When tapes started to be leaked about corruption claims involving Erdoğan, his family and party members via social media, he introduced a ban on Twitter. Gül was among millions of Turks to break the ban and broadcast a message on Twitter that he did not approve of the ban. “It is impossible to stop it,” Gül teased. “Look at the number of users, they have doubled.”
6- The conspiracy difference: According to Erdoğan, Gezi, the graft probe and Twitter were all parts of a global conspiracy to stop him from being a world leader. Gül said he did not subscribe to the conspiracy theories of "foreign powers," adding that this amounted to “Third World rhetoric.”
7- The fear difference: When the leaked tapes saga reached the point of people saying, “The biggest one will be on March 25,” Erdoğan started to say in election rallies that “they” - meaning Gülenists and international conspirators - had also tapped Gül, and would leak those “when they think necessary.” Gül said if some of public servants had done anything wrong, like eavesdropping on the president or the prime minister, they should be taken to court with proper evidence, but he has “No worry or fear whatsoever” if any tape of him is leaked.
It will be interesting to see the results of the March 30 election, and whether there will be further, deeper differences between Gül and Erdoğan in the run up to the presidential vote.