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MURAT YETKİN > Gül wants to convince Erdoğan to compromise

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The weekly game of power chess in Turkey has started with the opening move by President Abdullah Gül, which could either cool down the government-judiciary crisis triggered by the major graft probe, or deepen it further if things don’t unfold as he expects.

Gül’s move was to call all four party leaders with a group at Parliament in order to get their views about how to resolve the crisis, which has now spilled over into Parliament after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) submitted a draft law to secure more political control over the justice system. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Selahattin Demirtaş of the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and PM Edoğan in evening hours met Gül, one by one, in the presidential palace on top of Çankaya Hill in Ankara.

Before inviting the opposition leaders, Gül has carried out a number of contacts since last week in order to make his position clear, despite “urgent” calls for him to intervene. He talked to Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay (who was the acting PM in Erdoğan’s absence during his Asia trip) and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ at least twice. He also talked to Interior Minister Efkan Ala, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan, and Turkish Bars Union (TBB) Chairman Metin Feyzioğlu, as far as HDN could learn from official sources.

The opposition parties share the same concern on two issues: Firstly, they do not want the AK Parti to exercise more control over the justice system. Secondly, they do not want the current crisis to be used as an excuse for the Erdoğan government to cover up the corruption allegations probe.

However, the doses of their objections are different. The BDP has the lowest profile. It does not want the crisis to harm the AK Parti too much, which could further affect the dialogue process between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in pursuit of a political settlement to the Kurdish problem. Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, which shares the same grassroots as the BDP, issued a statement over the weekend describing the graft probe and the unfolding events
as a “coup attempt,” in a similar fashion to PM Erdoğan.

The MHP is firmly against the covering up of corruption allegations and the AK Parti’s domination over the judiciary. But it is careful not to get squeezed between the government and the Fethullah Gülen group, since the MHP is also addressing the conservative, pious voters of Anatolia. After all, Bahçeli is aware that Erdoğan thinks the sympathizers of the Gülen movement in the judiciary and the bureaucracy are behind the “graft probe plot”; Gülen is the U.S.-resident moderate Islamist scholar who until recently has been the prime minister’s closest ally. 

On the other hand, the CHP says it is ready to cooperate with the AK Parti, even on a sped up constitutional change that could strengthen the justice system in Turkey. But it will only do this if Erdoğan withdraws the current draft law on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and stops blocking the corruption probes, whoever those probes may touch.

In the meantime, Parliament Speaker Çiçek has started work to see whether the AK Parti draft on the HSYK violates the Constitution; this could give everyone extra room to maneuver.

With Gül’s intervention, it seems that political actors have shown their intention to take part in the play, if there is indeed one to stage. It is for PM Erdoğan to decide whether there will be a new move on the chess board of Parliament. Gül clearly wants to convince his long-time fellow Erdoğan that a compromise could be in the best interests of his government and the country. But it is not certain how Erdoğan will respond all those moves, keeping in mind that Turkey has two, possibly three, elections coming this year.

January/14/2014

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