Erdoğan dominating the dance for the presidency

Erdoğan dominating the dance for the presidency

Discussion about the annual Ankara “consultations” meeting yesterday of Turkey’s top industrialists’ club, TÜSİAD, actually started days before, and not in economic circles, but political ones.

The confirmation from the Çankaya Presidential Palace that President Abdullah Gül had agreed to accept the invitation of TÜSİAD Chairman Muharrem Yılmaz and deliver a speech was the main reason for this.

The fact that Gül decided to appear at the top investors’ club, which had been denounced as a “traitor” by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan almost two months ago, was very much perceived through the prism of Turkey’s coming presidential elections in August.

The reason why Erdoğan had labeled TÜSİAD a "traitor" was because Yılmaz had asked for a transparent inquiry into corruption allegations - exposed in the Dec. 17, 2013 graft probe - by independent courts, which had earlier been labeled by the PM as having been “infiltrated” by the followers of his former ally, Fethullah Gülen, a moderate Islamist scholar living in the United States.

Gül not only appeared at the TÜSİAD meeting, but praised them for their “good work.”

But that was only part of the story.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), also agreed to come to the TÜSİAD meeting. It was as if three of Erdoğan’s currently disliked entities were sitting next to each other in the same frame.

And there was an expectation, too. Because of statements both by Erdoğan and Gül regarding who will be Turkey’s next president, it was not just the members of TÜSİAD, but everyone who has an interest in Turkish politics that was thinking Gül might give an indication about his desire to stay for a second term of five years.

In the speeches before Gül, delivered by TÜSİAD’s Higher Consultative Commission under Erkut Yücaoğlu and Yılmaz, there was a discussion about the need for the superiority of the rule of law, the separation of powers (which Erdoğan thinks should be “redefined” to the benefit of the executive branch)i and independent courts for a developed economy. So the path to the goal was opened for Gül when he took the floor.

Gül agreed with them about the superiority of rule of law and everything else, asking them to work more for a better Turkey, but he stopped short of what was expected of him. Gül said there “should be no rush” for presidential elections, that there was nothing to worry about and that he would say what was necessary "when the time came."

One influential member of TÜSİAD told me afterwards that with that “non-speech,” Gül had, in a way, acknowledged the power of Erdoğan – reaffirmed by the March 30 local elections – to have the first say on the presidential post, despite the statements that the two would sit and map out a joint strategy.

That was the general atmosphere during the coffee break right after Gül’s speech. There were even those who thought that Gül was out of the presidential game and the possibility of replacing Erdoğan as head of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and the government.

But it might be too early to make a comment like that. After all, as a seasoned politician, Gül has his own game plan. That game plan will not necessarily be shaped by the expectations of other actors in society. Plus, Gül could be reading the strong message from an AK Parti meeting a day before that most of the party’s MPs would like to see Erdoğan as the next resident of Çankaya Palace.

Perhaps Turkey’s current political atmosphere has reduced the chances of Gül exchanging places with Erdoğan, but his chances for a second term are still there, according to another influential TÜSİAD member, speaking on condition of anonymity. But that decision will ultimately be Erdoğan’s, it seems.