The first thing that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan did after getting elected as the country’s 12th president on Aug. 10 was to call the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) main executive body for a meeting on Aug. 11.
His plan was simple:
Erdoğan wants to design his party and the government before he officially takes over the presidency from Abdullah Gül on Aug. 28.
Despite speculations about the need for a high-profile name to succeed him in order to change the Constitution to introduce a strong-presidential regime - instead of the current parliamentary one - Erdoğan now has changed priorities.
He mainly has two criteria for the new AK Parti chairman who will also lead the government as prime minister:
1- To work in harmony with the president and not attempt to steal his role,
2- To carry the party successfully through the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for June 2015.
It is true that many in the AK Parti think Gül is the best option both for keeping the party together and also for keeping it in power. But Gül is a strong name with a high international and domestic profile, which would not remain silent and in the shadows.
The AK Parti will anyway need a new chairman, as Erdoğan has to leave the post by Aug. 28. It would also help to exclude Gül’s name from the list, because according to the Constitution the prime minister has to be a member of Parliament. That would be a useful side effect in Erdoğan’s power game.
But Gül has made it clear that he is not planning to retire from politics after completing his term as president, telling a group of reporters right in the middle of the decision-making meeting in the AK Parti that it would be natural for him to return to the party that he was a co-founder of.
This was like a “Remember, I am still in the game” message to the meeting chaired by Erdoğan.
The answer from the meeting came in just an hour, from AK Parti Spokesman Hüseyin Çelik: They had decided to hold the congress to elect a new chairman (thus to be given office to form a Cabinet by Erdoğan right after Aug. 28) a day before the official handover ceremony; with the congress to be held on Aug. 27.
Çelik was going on the record by welcoming Gül’s decision, but the party’s decision was telling Gül that it would not be possible for him to lead the party and the government - at least for now, maybe later. The new chairman and prime minister would now be picked by Erdoğan.
Gül’s move came at an unexpected time for Erdoğan, just as he was celebrating his victory as Turkey’s first ever president to be elected by popular vote. Gül has reminded Erdoğan that despite his 51.8 support, there are still political and legal balances that he has to watch. He also gave a strong message to Erdoğan that the winner cannot take all, at least not always. It is a fact that Gül has supporters in the AK Parti who are not happy at all with the one-man-rule attitude of Erdoğan; Gül has also told them that there might be alternatives if the doors of the AK Parti’s direction room are shut to them.
There are always surprises in Turkish politics.