There is no doubt left in Turkish politics that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan wants to be the next president of Turkey, replacing his long-time fellow Abdullah Gül.
Keeping the “No more than three consecutive terms in Parliament” rule is like burning the boats behind him, as the Constitution dictates that only a member of Parliament can be the prime minister.
It has not been officially announced yet, but Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç has already announced that the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) candidate for the presidency is “Erdoğan, 100 percent,” if he wants it.
So why doesn’t Erdoğan announce that he wants to be the candidate now?
The prime minister’s official answer is that he wanted to consult over the issue with all bodies in the party. Actually, he has consulted with a number of party bodies so far and received the backing from all of them. There is one left: The consultative conference that takes place every six months, which all AKP MPs, all provincial chairmen and all headquarters officials attend. No different result is expected from there regarding support for Erdoğan’s ascent to the presidency. “He deserves it after being in power for 12 years,” another deputy prime minister, Beşir Atalay, said.
But that is a flop from Atalay that has made people wonder about why Erdoğan wants to gain time before announcing his candidacy. In the same live TV show on Kanal 7 on May 4, Atalay said that “it would be absurd to think of a president coming down and serving as prime minister once again.”
That was naturally a call for Gül to retire from the AK Parti when his term ends in August.
Gül had already said he had no plans for politics “under the current circumstances.” That was a reference to Erdoğan’s words that he would use “all of the presidential powers” if he becomes president. This might sound strange to an outsider, but we are talking about a Constitution prepared under the military regime of 1982. Even the military ruler Kenan Evren
did not dare to use all of the powers given to him, for example, chairing Cabinet meetings, which would have been a recipe for in-house fights. Erdoğan’s words are an indirect announcement that he wants a low profile, Cabinet-coordinating prime minister. Gül, meanwhile, said “if that’s what you want, I am not the one.”
So Atalay’s words were interpreted as meaning that Gül already has no place left in Erdoğan’s future scenarios.
However, in the evening hours, Atalay invited a semi-official Anadolu Agency reporter
and made a video statement to “correct” what he had said. He said that actually the doors of the party and the Cabinet would be wide open for Gül if he wanted, if Erdoğan wants to be president.
It was not clear whether Erdoğan asked Atalay to make the “correction,” but the development led to a different set of scenarios.
It is now valid to say that following Gül’s signal that he would stay out, instead of being a puppet prime minister, Erdoğan might have thought the possible political costs of that for himself, especially regarding the subsequent general elections. As Gül could be elected again and he would be the natural leader to keep the party together after Erdoğan, his absence might have dramatic consequences.
It is possible that common ground might be found between Erdoğan and Gül. We will be able to understand that following Erdoğan’s final consultations with his party on May 9-11. Erdoğan is expected to go on a trip to Balkan countries on May 14-15. Then on May 15, Gül will go to China
for his term’s last official trip abroad; he will return on May 21. Erdoğan will depart for another three-day European tour on either May 23 or 24.
During one of the days between the two trips, the two will find time in Turkey to sit and talk about their common future, as the presidential election process starts in June.