Gül’s remarks undermine Erdoğan’s position

Gül’s remarks undermine Erdoğan’s position

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is trying to convince everyone that last summer’s Gezi Park protests and the corruption scandal that broke on Dec. 17, 2013 – implicating himself and members of his government – are nothing but the products of a conspiracy to topple him and his government by “external forces” and their Turkish lackeys and collaborators.

He also claims that the international media, which has been full of harsh criticism of his government for months now on the grounds that it is becoming increasingly authoritarian, is part of this conspiracy and is driven by Western powers, led by the United States, as well as Israel and the international Jewish lobby.

Erdoğan maintains that these “external forces” are out to undermine the great strides Turkey has made under his Justice and Development Party (AKP) and is vowing to fight them and their domestic collaborators to the bitter end. This is nothing but crass politicking of course, and it is a wide-open question as to whether he actually believes his own yarn.

What is clear, however, is that he has made his allegations concerning wicked external forces out to undermine him a centerpiece of his current political campaign in the lead-up to the local elections on March 30. He is accordingly belaboring the point at just about every political rally he holds.

This is why it must have come as a total shock to him to hear that President Abdullah Gül is now refuting his argument and maintaining that putting forward these claims about “external forces” does nothing but place Turkey in the class of backward, third-world countries.

Talking to senior journalists, this one included, accompanying him on an official visit to Denmark this week, Gül said in categorical terms that he does not believe in these claims. He went on to rightly question the strange logic in arguing that the same countries, and international media groups, which have had nothing but praise for Turkey over these past 10 years, should now all of a sudden have changed tack and are now trying to destroy Turkey.

Using a powerful metaphor, Gül said: “If you leave your wound open, flies will settle on it. What is important is not to get wounded,” while maintaining that the only way for Turkey to attain the targets it wants to reach is to return as soon as possible to the reform process that has been driven to date by Ankara’s EU perspective.

These are extremely important remarks for Gül to make so soon after he caused great disappointment in and outside of Turkey by signing the government’s restrictive Internet law, as well as its new law on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) that makes a mockery of the separation of powers principle which is central to any genuine democracy.

Gül is clearly trying to regain lost ground now by openly refuting the wild claims of Erdoğan, his co-founder of the AKP, whose remarks continue to force the limits of credulity. Gül is also deeply disturbed and saddened, by his own admittance, by the ugly and acrimonious turn that Turkish politics have currently taken.

By underlining the urgent need for Turkey to return to its reform process and the EU perspective, which he rightly argues is a very important anchor for the country in terms of its democratic aspirations, he is clearly challenging Erdoğan and members of his government, whose attempts to divert attention from the serious corruption charges they are facing have started to damage the country’s reputation.

It remains to be seen if this is the opening of Gül’s own political campaign given that presidential elections are due later this year, to be followed by general elections next year. What is certain is that Erdoğan cannot be too happy over Gül’s words and must be worried that these will undermine his position further at a time when he is trying to convince the public that Turkey has no alternative to himself.