Gül doesn’t want to be part of Erdoğan’s game

Gül doesn’t want to be part of Erdoğan’s game

Turkey’s former President Abdullah Gül said through an aide on May 26 that he has turned down an invitation from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), of which he was a key founder, to join a rally in Istanbul on May 30, just a week before the critical June 7 general election.

The close aide, who asked not to be named, said Gül had already announced his decision not to take part in active politics “under current circumstances” before leaving the presidency last year, adding that there had been no change in his stance since then. 

“It is not a reaction to anything,” the aide elaborated. “Mr. Gül thinks they are still friends and he wishes them success, but he doesn’t want to attend the rally because he wants to stay out of daily politics.”

The “they” in this sentence means President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who is also the chairman of the AK Parti. 

Muharrem Sarıkaya, an experienced political journalist, wrote on May 26 in daily Habertürk that the AK Parti wanted to see Gül alongside Erdoğan and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, the third of the triumvirate who founded the party in 2001, “on top of the bus” at Davutoğlu’s rally.

The event will actually be called the “Conquest Rally,” in reference to the 562nd anniversary of the Ottomans under Sultan Mehmet II taking Istanbul (then Constantinople) from the Byzantine Empire, commemorated every year on May 29. The AK Parti rally will actually take place a day after the official Conquest Day, but Erdoğan and Davutoğlu thought the number of people attending that rally may be limited as Friday is a working day, so the party scheduled it for May 30. (The Istanbul Governor’s Office announced yesterday that no permission had been granted for the Istanbul rally of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party, HDP, on the same day.)

AK Parti people claim that it is not exactly an “election rally,” but rather “Conquest Day.” As a result, Erdoğan’s presence there, (the president is supposed to be non-partisan according to constitution), will not amount to “taking sides,” they say.

All opposition parties have strongly criticized Erdoğan for taking part in the AK Parti’s election campaign by delivering speeches to big crowds that are broadcast live on TVs, during events to “open” various facilities across Turkey, “launch” programs, or “thank” citizens in Anatolian towns.

Over the last week, Erdoğan has cared even less about criticisms and started to join Davutoğlu in election rallies in the form of “openings.” The first of these took place on May 22 at an airport opening in the Black Sea coast (Ordu-Giresun), followed by yesterday (May 26) in Yüksekova, near Turkey’s border with Iran and Iraq. The Istanbul rally is scheduled to be the third one.

Ambitiously hoping to win 330 seats for the AK Parti in the 550-seat Turkish parliament in the June 7 elections, in order to secure a constitutional change to shift from a parliamentary system to a strong presidential system, Erdoğan thinks the stakes are too high to be risked. He doesn’t want to leave Davutoğlu alone in the AK Parti election campaign. As a result, victory in reaching that goal will be Erdoğan’s, but failure will be put down to Davutoğlu.

Gül refrained from taking such an active profile throughout his seven years in office. There were elections and referenda within his term, but he minimized his travels around the country in order not to become a subject of controversy. Gül has also openly said that he is not in favor of switching to a presidential system with executive power and fewer checks and balances, which Erdoğan has been promoting.

This might be why Gül has refrained from joining the Erdoğan-Davutoğlu rally in Istanbul on May 29. He wished the best of luck to his friends, but they are no longer day-to-day political partners.