An end for presidential row?

An end for presidential row?

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
An end for presidential row

President Gül is expected to make a public statement to end the argument regarding a debate over the presidential elections, set to take place in 2014. DHA photo

Turkey’s head of state and head of government are seeking to leave a recent row over the future of the Turkish presidency behind them, with President Abdullah Gül expected to soon make a public statement to end the argument.

Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came together late yesterday in their first meeting since Gül’s spokesperson, Ahmet Sever, ignited a debate over the presidential elections, set to take place in 2014. Sever made a statement in an interview with daily Vatan on July 30 expressing Gül’s unease with government members’ interventions in the future of his political career. The interview drew strong a reaction from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and shook Ankara.

Although AKP officials tried to play down Sever’s words, saying they only reflected the spokesperson’s own views, many in Ankara believe they really did echo the president’s worries, which have grown over the last couple of months.

Leaving the duration of the president’s mandate vague and trying to block Gül’s chance to run for a second term through a constitutional amendment were two points about which the president felt particularly upset. It was Gül who challenged Necmettin Erbakan, the traditional leader of political Islam in Turkey, in the early 2000s, which paved the way for the founding of the AKP in 2001. Although Gül initiated the move, he did not hesitate to offer the chairmanship of the party to Erdoğan.

Again, it was he who unwaveringly left the Prime Ministry to Erdoğan in early 2003 after a legal amendment allowed the AKP chairman to be elected as a lawmaker and to become Turkey’s prime minister.

Erdoğan’s men, however, read history differently, and describe Gül’s selection as the AKP’s presidential candidate in 2007 as an accommodating gesture on the part of the prime minister; Hüseyin Çelik, the AKP’s deputy leader, was very blunt in publicly making this point earlier this week. Almost all of the AKP’s officials expressed their belief that Gül would not run for another term in 2014 because it is now seen as Erdoğan’s turn.

However, the row between Gül and Erdoğan is not limited to the presidential elections. The foreign policy the government is pursuing is not endorsed by the president, particularly with regard to Syria. The disagreement surfaced after the downing of the Turkish jet in June, as neither the prime minister nor the chief of general staff informed the president about the incident. Instead, the air forces commander and the foreign minister visited Gül.

The fact that Yalçın Akdoğan, adviser to the prime minister, told CNNTürk, “I don’t know the level of [presidential spokesperson] Ahmet Sever’s relationship with the president; however, some advisers may be even more royalist than the king,” could be considered a call to the president to make his own case to the public.

Gül seems prepared to defend his adviser’s interview and confirm its substance. However, this will be expressed in a softer tone, aimed at bringing an end to this discussion at a moment when Turkey is dealing with serious problems.

Likewise, Erdoğan is believed to be urging his fellows in the party not to let the debate snowball.