Will former President Gül start a new party?

Will former President Gül start a new party?

Will former President Gül start a new party A day before the inauguration of a new museum-library bearing his name on Dec. 4, in his Central Anatolian hometown of Kayseri, former Turkish President Abdullah Gül gave an interesting interview to CNN Türk.

Speaking to political journalist Hakan Çelik, Gül said: “I have been asked this question perhaps 40 times before. Each time I have said the same thing: I’m out of active politics and have no plans to return.”

The recent wave of rumors about Gül setting up a new party to compete with President Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), which they established together in 2001, stems from his recent trips abroad. A meeting with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and a conference in Jordan were shown as evidence on pro-government social media that Gül is conspiring with “foreigners” to establish a new party, divide the AK Parti, and take Erdoğan down.

His invitation to Erdoğan - his life-long fellow-traveler and successor as president - to inaugurate the new museum-library in Kayseri has not been enough to defy the speculation.

“I know how to establish a political party,” Gül said in the CNN interview. “It is not done through foreign contacts. I am a native politician by nature; I know that you have to hit the road, knock on doors and persuade people.”

And Gül doesn’t want to do that.

In the Museum-Library there is a digital game board specially designed to rouse the interest of youngsters in politics, called “How to be a President?” Running against time, players have to identify the needs of voters, woo them, persuade parliament, and enter elections. 

A colleague asked whether Gül himself had played the game during preparation for the museum’s opening.

“No, never” he said instantly. “I won the title once, and I never want to lose even if it’s just a game.” After a half-pause, he added: “I don’t advise any president to play it either.”

Will former President Gül start a new party
Former President Abdullah Gül (L) looks as journalists Murat Yetkin (C) and Muharrem Sarıkaya examine the digital game "How to become a President?" (Photo: Mehmet Demirci)

Three former state presidents, as well as a number of former and current prime ministers, ministers, and MPs flew to Kayseri upon Gül’s short-notice invitation. In Turkey, Gül is able to talk to any politician from all sides to share and discuss his views with no difficulty.

Would he want to lose this status? Would he want to get into the everyday fight of grassroots politics after serving the country as foreign minister, prime minister and finally president? Would he want to challenge his life-long comrade Erdoğan at a time when the president is at the zenith of his power, especially after the defeated coup attempt of July 15? And for what? To be accused of fragmenting Turkish politics further?

Would Gül perhaps accept a De Gaulle-style comeback if Turkey hit a truly huge crisis and the presidency was handed to him on a golden tray? Even in those dire circumstances he would think twice and try to set his ground rules.

Most of those who want to see Gül back in politics are doing so not because they adore him. Most of those who want to see him return, inside and outside of the ruling AK Parti, do so because they don’t want to openly stand against Erdoğan’s power, and instead they want to hide behind Gül.

Gül is aware of that. So the answer to the question in the title is “no, he is not likely to start a new party under the circumstances.” That is why he is focused on his new museum-library, in connection with the presidential library in Ankara.

The Abdullah Gül Presidential Museum-Library has been established in the newly restored power plant of a former clothing factory in Kayseri, built in the early years of the Turkish Republic under the instruction of founding President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The museum section displays a cross-section from Gül’s political journey and from the recent political history of Turkey, in an interactive way. The library opens with a collection of 18,000 books, documents, etc., and is digitally connected to other libraries in Turkey and abroad.