Gül signals no step back from second term

Gül signals no step back from second term

If the talk of the town in Ankara last week was real and if Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s timing in opening up his “democratization package” on Sept. 30 really was an attempt to dominate public attention a day before the opening of the legislative year - in which President Abdullah Gül was due to make his traditional opening speech - one might say that Gül really outmaneuvered such a hypothetical move with his performance yesterday.

The first move by Gül was to come to the Parliament together with his wife Hayrunnisa Gül. That was a first since Gül was elected as president by Parliament in August 2007. That election was a real challenge, perhaps the last one between the military bureaucracy and the civilian power in Turkey. The military had not wanted Gül with his wife “covered,” that is with a headscarf, which they saw as a breach of Turkey’s secularist establishment. Erdoğan and his government stood strong against the military push, announced early elections, won them, elected the president and then changed the rules for electing presidents. It also opened a widescale probe against military-involved conspiracies against the government, which later turned into Ergenekon and similar trials. 

So Gül’s appearance in Parliament with his wife and Mrs. Gül’s presence in the presidential lounge, alongside top generals, definitely put Gül under the spotlight with a lot of bonus points, despite the fact that one of Erdoğan’s package promises was to lift the headscarf ban in public institutions.

Gül’s was also the last election of the Turkish president by Parliament. Through a referendum in September 2007, the system was transformed into a two-stage, popular vote one. So next year in August the new president will be elected through a popular vote for a five-year term, (which could be repeated for a second term), and with a 50 percent plus one vote at most in the second round.

It is no secret that Erdoğan wants to be the next president. And not just any president; he wants more presidential powers, less separation of powers and even less checks-and-balances over the presidency. That has been a matter of concern not only for opposition parties but also people like Cemil Çiçek, the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) original parliamentary speaker and Haşim Kılıç, the conservative head of the Constitutional Court. 

Gül openly asked for a more clear separation between executive, legislative and judiciary branches of power, a more independent judiciary and a freer press to “add strength” to Turkish democracy in his speech yesterday. Photo reporters captured pictures of the faces of Erdoğan and his ministers as the president underlined the need for more freedoms and as he praised once again the motivations that started the Gezi Park protests, (though not the violence-involved part of them).

As he concluded, Gül did not choose to say that his speech was his last address to Parliament as president. Instead, he said it was his “last address ... during my term,” and carried on to say that following the end of his term, he would “continue to be in the service of our nation.”

Gül has signaled no step back from the race for the next presidency, and he will be in the political scene one way or another.