Gül open to ‘invitation’ by Erdoğan to change positions

Gül open to ‘invitation’ by Erdoğan to change positions

A change of winds in the upper echelons of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) may bring bad news to those seeking to replace Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, if and when he is elected as president.

The signals from both Erdoğan and Gül on Monday indicated that Gül’s return to politics as AK Parti chairman and as prime minister was possible, under a certain set of circumstances.

Actually, this had been the most popular scenario until a statement by Erdoğan in April saying that if he was elected he wanted to use all possible executive powers, thus downgrading the functions of the prime minister and the government to executing decisions - rather than taking them.

Gül immediately said that under these circumstances he would not be a “Medvedev” for Erdoğan, in reference to the Russian model in which Vladimir Putin and Dimitry Medvedev have changed the top two seats in Russia to sustain power.

With that statement, Gül also triggered the perception that any PM and party chairman other than him would be little more than a “puppet.”

In an AK Parti meeting before Erdoğan declared his candidacy, a number of MPs have expressed their worries to Erdoğan that if he left the party a gradual disintegration could be possible, in the absence of a strong enough figure, and perhaps only Gül can fill the gap.

Erdoğan was reportedly furious about these remarks. In subsequent statements he did not mention the name of Gül, including in his speech at the declaration of his candidacy speech, when he also appeared to openly criticize Gül for sending a congratulatory message to Egyptian coup leader Abdulfettah el-Sisi after the latter was elected president.

Gül also strained the ropes a bit. For example, hours before a critical meeting when Erdoğan tried to give the impression that he would declare his candidacy after convincing Gül, the president said he had already told Erdoğan that he would not be a candidate for a second term. Despite the intervention of Deputy PM Bülent Arınç - the third of triumvirate - saying that, if invited, Gül would not refuse to lead the AK Parti, Gül received Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the joint candidate of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), “wishing him success” as he had earlier done to Erdoğan.

All these developments increased the hopes of the possible Erdoğan-replacement candidates, especially Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who has the advantage of being able to be a candidate to be a member of the next Parliament. Others possible replacements, such as Deputy PM Beşir Atalay or former Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım, do not have this advantage, as the maximum-three-term rule of AK Parti remains in place.

However, during a dinner on Saturday with businessman from his hometown of Kayseri, Gül said he believed that there was still a lot to be done in the country and he might reconsider if the circumstances change.

There is little doubt that that this info found its way to the ears of Erdoğan. On Monday, he repeated that a president must surely take care of the problems of the people - from the roads to the bridges - and not only sit in his seat and watch, like many former presidents did “apart from Gül.” Erdoğan also said it was him and Gül together who had made many improvements possible, clearly leaving him room to maneuver.

Sources close to Gül told the Hürriyet Daily News that the books were still open for him, and that - depending on an invitation by Erdoğan indicating circumstances that Gül can accept - a changing of the seats is no longer out of the question.