Where will the Erdoğan-Gül row lead?

Where will the Erdoğan-Gül row lead?

There have been many issues on which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and former President Abdullah Gül have had differing views since they founded the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) on Aug. 14, 2001. But their differences have never been as public as they have in the latest war of words between the two men.

Although it seems like the latest row is over the controversial state of emergency decree law numbered 696, the real breaking point between Erdoğan and Gül was the referendum on shifting to an executive presidential system in April 2017.

During campaigning leading up to the vote, the two men had a two-and-a-half-hour meeting. Erdoğan was not at all pleased with how Gül voiced support for a parliamentary system, as reflected when he later said: “Those who have jumped the wagon did not vote in favor of the presidential system in April.”

The two men have certainly had a number of differences since 2001, but they always managed to form a balanced image. Things started to take a different turn with the anti-government Gezi Park protests of 2013, when Gül was not in favor of the harsh stance taken by Erdoğan. Gül was also not in agreement with Erdoğan in the process that followed the Dec. 17-25, 2013 corruption probes targeting senior government figures.

Those two challenges were the biggest in Erdoğan’s political career, with the exception of the July 2016 coup attempt. Erdoğan had expected strong support from Gül – who he had called his “brother” and who he had helped rise to the presidential seat.

Gül, however, chose to take a different stance. Erdoğan subsequently blocked Gül from standing for another presidential term and also prevented him from becoming the AK Party chair. But even then the two men were discreet in maintaining their different views.

Presidential election

So why now? Why have they taken their gloves off now? This battle has a single objective: The 2019 presidential election.

First, let’s consider the AK Party’s most recent Central Decision and Governing Council (MYK), held on Dec. 29.

Speaking there, Erdoğan dove into the controversy stirred over the contentious emergency decree, voicing even more discontent with Gül’s objection than the objections from the opposition parties. He talked about how the issue was “no longer political,” meaning that it was no longer about the decree. Erdoğan said he could have considered revising the decree “if he had not been targeted by a campaingn,” but the “objective here was different.”

Erdoğan believes Gül is hinting at his possible candidacy for the presidency in 2019. If this materialized, this could pose a challenge to Erdoğan’s leadership in front of the public. That is why he has gone public with the debate now.

The decision on the Gül front

A number of decisions seem to have been taken by Gül following the April 2017 referendum. Prior to that point he had been subjected to pressure, amid demands that he make more public statements. Gül had opted to remain largely silent but he decided to speak up from then on, starting in April 2017.

Gül then moved onto a different phase, recreating his political image. When questioned about suggestions that he would establish a new party, he pointedly recalled that he had founded a party in the past – referring to his role in the establishment of the AK Party.

There are rumors that Gül will now put himself forward as a joint candidate of an anti-Erdoğan bloc, if he garners the necessary backing of 100,000 signatures.

Erdoğan is well aware of all this maneuvering. This is why he has sought to distance AK Party voters from Gül with his latest statements. But Gül, who had been known to be reluctant to engage in such arguments in pubic, did not back down this time. The battle between Erdoğan and Gül has thus taken a new, more public turn. It is important to monitor the process, at the end of which Erdoğan will win.

Abdulkadir Selvi, hdn, Opinion