Gül offers Erdoğan a second chance?
The new source of tension in the Turkish Parliament is not about Syria; that reached its climax last week with the parliamentary grilling of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, after Turkish jets forced a Syrian plane en route to Damascus from Moscow to land and seized part of its cargo, which was suspected to be military material.
This week, the Syria crisis has become routine. When an Armenian plane landed in the eastern city of Erzurum for a cargo inspection on Monday, for example, only a handful of reporters were excited about the possibility of a new crisis. But in a short time it was understood from statements from both Turkish and Armenian government sources that it was not a crisis. It did however show that Turkey’s neighbors, even Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic relations, acknowledge that it is no longer a good idea to try to transport military material to Syria via Turkish airspace. With backing from the U.S. and EU on the grounding of the Syrian airliner, the Turkish government has brought its tone down as well. There were reports that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov got a hard time over Syria and Turkey from his colleagues at the EU, as their own stances on both Syria and Iran are toughening.
But there is never a dull moment in the Turkish capital, and since the weekend Parliament has been busy with its new source of tension. Because the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) failed to secure an amendment to move local elections planned for March 30, 2014 to Oct. 27, 2013 with the support of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the possibility of a referendum on the issue emerged on the political agenda. It is now up to President Abdullah Gül’s to decide whether to approve the motion and let the country hold a referendum amid the Syria crisis, the simmering Kurdish issue and economic difficulties, or to give his long-time comrade Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan a second chance to try it again without a referendum.
If Gül uses the full 15 days the Constitution grants him to decide, it will be too late for Erdoğan, because according to the Constitution, any change in election procedure cannot be implemented for a year after it is passed, so the deadline for this amendment is Oct. 27. And the MHP, with its inner opposition against a municipal law in favor of the AK Parti, has already started to say that perhaps it is better to hold the local elections as scheduled.
Ahmet Sever, the president’s spokesman, told daily Milliyet on Monday that the president is likely to send the amendment back to Parliament for a revision. That would probably make Erdoğan happy, as it would mean a second chance for him if it can come up again before the Muslim religious holiday the Eid al-Adha begins on Oct. 25.
Everyone of course knows that this is actually about who will be the next president in 2014, and it seems Parliament is just beginning to struggle with it.