As Gül disappears into the mist…

As Gül disappears into the mist…

It’s a matter of preference whether one describes former president Abdullah Gül as walking into the sunset or disappearing into the mist. He has spelled out that he has no political plans for the future; In other words, he will not run in the June elections.

This also puts an end to his political career, for now.

Whether he chose in earnest to distance himself from politics, or was marginalized by his fellow traveler President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is open to debate. According to one argument, Erdoğan outmaneuvered him during last year’s presidential elections.

It was Gül’s choice not to contest those elections, but many expected him to be rewarded for leaving Erdoğan’s path to the presidency clear. It was thought the environment would be prepared for Gül to eventually become the leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), a party that he co-founded with Erdoğan.

But Erdoğan prevented this after being elected president. He got the party to hold its congress to elect the new leader before Gül officially gave up the presidency. Gül could not attend because he was still the president.

That was a clear sign Erdoğan did not want Gül near the party, let alone at its helm. He chose former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu instead, who appears to be serving Erdoğan well. Gül and Erdoğan, on the other hand, have not seen eye-to-eye on a number of key issues, not the least of which is turning Turkey into a presidential system.

Gül has made it clear that we should improve our long-standing parliamentary system rather than toying with new ideas like a presidential system. He has not discounted a presidential system, though, saying it is a possibility provided democratic principles are protected. 

He recently repeated Turkey should not have a Turkish-style (meaning deficient) presidential system, the way it has a Turkish-style parliamentary one. Any presidential system, according to Gül, should, like the U.S. one, have a well-established set of constitutional checks and balances against the potential abuse of executive power.

Erdoğan, on the other hand, wants a system where he calls the shots without restrictions in order to “make Turkey soar,” as he puts it. Erdoğan presents this in a positive light by saying nothing can hold Turkey back if he becomes president.

But a president who has the power to do anything he wants in the name of making “Turkey soar” is what many fear.

History is full of leaders who have turned into authoritarian dictators - even if they were elected - in the name of making their country “soar.” Given Erdoğan’s harsh tone and vindictive demeanor, it is no wonder many are concerned about his political ambitions. Judging by his past and recent remarks, Gül is also concerned.

But one can question whether he has used his political prestige as a supporter of advanced democracy to curb Erdoğan’s undemocratic ambitions to date, most notably after the Gezi Park demonstrations in the summer of 2013. It is hard to say that Gül did this. Either for ideological reasons, or out of solidarity with the AKP, he clearly did not want to be the person blocking Erdoğan’s path.

There are those who offer another reason for Gül’s decision to walk into the mist politically. They say Gül left it too late to return to politics. “He who grabbed the horse has long since passed Üsküdar,” according to a Turkish saying. In other words, there is little Gül can do to curb Erdoğan at this stage.

If he was to be elected as an AKP deputy in June, as no doubt he would, all that he could do is sit silently in parliament without creating waves for Erdoğan. Given his political standing, Gül clearly did not want to end up in such a submissive position.

One way or another all Gül can do presently is remain in the mist and wait for a new set of circumstance to develop before returning to the political scene. That, however, does not appear likely to happen soon.