Does Erdoğan hope to use Gül against Davutoğlu?

Does Erdoğan hope to use Gül against Davutoğlu?

In a surprise move, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan told journalists on Friday that he would be happy if former President Abdullah Gül returned to the ranks of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) for active politics. Erdoğan also added that last week the two had a telephone conversation.

The timing of Erdoğan’s remark is interesting: Just before Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s return to the country from the U.S., where he tried his best to lure foreign investors to Turkey with the “stability” card. By “stability,” what Davutoğlu meant was the continuation of the AK Parti government under his leadership after the June 7 elections.

Reuters reported that Davutoğlu’s efforts to convince international investors did not impress them as much as the Turkish government desired. That is despite the sharp fall that the Turkish Lira continues to take against the U.S. dollar, which is advantageous to those who have dollars in their hands, but not necessarily to Turks who earn in liras and face rising inflation figures.

Up until Erdoğan’s remarks about Gül, Davutoğlu’s main concern when he returned home was to calm the markets from a rush to the dollar and addressing the Kurdish issue. While in New York he had a telephone conversation with Central Bank Governor Erdem Başçı in Ankara to discuss the situation. Davutoğlu had the Deputy PM in charge of the economy, Ali Babacan, and Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek with him, as well as a conceptual program prepared for him for March 8 in Şanlıurfa (near the Syrian border) to announce plans to support the economic dimension of the desired Kurdish peace.

Now, after Erdoğan’s latest remarks about Gül, Davutoğlu has another issue to deal with. The relevance of the timing of his remarks comes from the fact that Erdoğan has already called the cabinet for a meeting in the presidential palace, chaired by himself, on March 9. That meeting comes amid continued debates on the first meeting chaired by him on Jan. 19.

The most public difference of opinion between Erdoğan and Davutoğlu is about former National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan’s resignation to be a candidate on the AK Parti list in the coming elections. Erdoğan is still “broken” by both Davutoğlu and Fidan because of the resignation against his will, according to a recent statement by him, despite a reported meeting between himself and Fidan in Medina, where both were separately performing the Umrah, a semi-pilgrimage for Muslims.

Does Erdoğan hope to use Gül, who has already declared that he will not be a candidate for parliament, “as an ordinary MP” in this election against Davutoğlu, who has started to show his presence with his powers as prime minister. The PM position could completely evaporate if Turkey goes to a strong presidential system as Erdoğan desires after the election?

But it is clear that Gül is also against the presidential system as Erdoğan wants it, with a vague separation of powers and an even weaker system of checks-and-balances. If Turkey has to choose, Gül supports a U.S.-style presidential system to remain democratic at the same time.

Erdoğan’s remarks on Gül could certainly put additional pressure on Davutoğlu, because if Gül returns there would be a strong alternative to his position within the party. On the other hand, it puts a certain pressure on Gül as well, because the tone in Erdoğan’s remarks suggests that he is the one who will ultimately approve of Gül’s return to active politics in the AK Parti.

Erdoğan is trying to find ways to enforce his power over the party that he established (together with Gül and Deputy PM Bülent Arınç), in order to secure support for his strong presidential model (which Davutoğlu has not expressed so far), but those moves could put further strain on the ruling party.

The whole picture shows that the waters are warming up within the AK Parti, as Turkey’s economic indicators get worse and the country heads to a general election.