What is happening in Ankara?
The news from Ankara yesterday was of the cancelation of a Victory Day reception on Aug. 30, which was to have been hosted by President Abdullah Gül, due to his receiving extended medical treatment for a recurring ear problem that resurfaced during his visit to Kyrgyzstan last week.
Gül’s physicians at Hacettepe University Hospital in Ankara also suggested that he not take any flights for at least the next two months. This means he will miss at least two important foreign trips; one a bilateral visit to Sweden and the other a ten-day long visit to the U.S. to attend the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Well, now Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is expected to go to the U.S. in Gül’s place. The word has been around for some time in political corridors that Erdoğan would like to go to New York himself this year, and take the opportunity to talk tête-à-tête with U.S. President Barack Obama before the elections in November, particularly on the issues of Syria, Iraq and the terrorist attacks these issues have further inflamed.
These issues are important for the Turkish government, and are putting additional pressure on it amid the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran, which might trigger tremors in the already shaken balances of the greater Middle East and the Caucasus, too, with the common denominator of oil and gas resources. The government does not like to see any challenge from inside to its policies on those matters. Erdoğan turned down a recent proposal from main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to convene Parliament to discuss the Kurdish issue and the joint struggle against attacks by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which continue to claim lives. Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek had to call the Parliament to meet, because a sufficient number of signatures was collected by CHP deputies, but attendance fell short of the required quorum, and the attempt made Erdoğan upset anyway.
But when Çiçek, who was elected to his post from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) list, proposed on Aug. 27th an 11-point road map for reaching a social and political consensus to stand against the terrorist attacks, an unexpected and disproportionate reaction came from a heavy gun in the government. In answer to journalists following a Cabinet meeting, deputy prime minister and government spokesman Bülent Arınç likened Çiçek’s good-willed proposal to the military interventions in politics of years past, and said the government was not the addressee for his call. Arınç’s reaction was a preemptive move against even the distant possibility that Çiçek might use his constitutional authority to call the Parliament to discuss those hot issues once again.
Çiçek is going to attend the celebrations of Victory Day (the anniversary of the final field battle against the invading Greek armies during the War of Liberation in 1922) in Gül’s stead, but he will not have the chance to be acting president while Gül is away, as Gül will not be away due to his health problem.
All of these moves carry additional weight, as the AK Parti is heading toward a critical congress on Sept. 30 (when Erdoğan will be back from the U.S., if he goes), at which a major reshuffle among the party’s ranks is expected, which might have repercussions for the formation of the Cabinet. That new formation could possibly carry Erdoğan to Gül’s chair as president in 2014, and the party to the next general elections in 2015. Who will stay, who will go, and where? Those are the hidden questions in the “all politics is local” game in Ankara.