Gül pulled aside, Erdoğan presses on
In the absence of a single strong candidate under whom opposition parties could unite against President Tayyip Erdoğan, the name of former President Abdullah Gül was circulated as a possible candidate in the June 24 early election in Turkey.
It was the religious-conservative Felicity (Saadet) Party leader Temel Karamollaoğlu who first suggested that Gül could become a competitor to replace Erdoğan. Strangely enough, all three of Erdoğan, Gül and Karamollaoğlu were members of the same Milli Görüş (National View) political movement led by the late Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan decades ago.
There were signs that Gül could be a second option even for the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Both want to see Erdoğan’s alliance with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli lose the upcoming elections, in which both the presidential and parliamentary votes will take place on the same day. The key for Gül’s candidacy was to be the joint candidate of all opposition parties, including the center-right İYİ (Good) Party, whose leader Meral Akşener split from the MHP together with a number of MPs last year.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu did his best, making an unprecedented move on April 22: Fifteen MPs resigned from the CHP to join the İYİ Party in order to help the latter form a parliamentary group as a new party, thus avoiding the possibility of the İYİ Party being blocked from entering the election. Karamollaoğlu tried hard to convince Akşener, who has already promised a partnership with the Saadet Party for the parliamentary elections, to withdraw her candidacy for the presidency, but he evidently failed. İYİ Party Deputy Chair Ümit Özdağ said “unimaginable people from business circles had called to press them to support Gül’s candidacy,” and the party suspected a “trick.”
Meanwhile, it has been reported that Hulusi Akar, the Turkish chief of general staff and Gül’s schoolmate from high school, visited him together with Presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın in order to ask him to not be a candidate. CHP spokesman Bülent Tezcan blasted this reported move, saying the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government was attempting to use the military as leverage for political purposes, which the party has for years criticized. Neither the reports not Tezcan’s words have yet been commented on by the General Staff or the Presidency.
After remaining silent for weeks, Gül gave a press conference on April 28 in a bid to answer all the speculations. In it, he said he had achieved “all political positions that a mortal could think of,” having served as foreign minister, prime minister and president during AK Parti governments. He said he now wants to stay away from politics because he “could not see a consensus” in the opposition around his candidacy, which he thought was a must.
In his statement, Gül also voiced concerns about Turkey’s current economic and political outlook. He did not say he did not want to stand against Erdoğan, but rather that he decided not to because of a lack of opposition consensus - which may mean that he has not closed the door completely.