President Gül’s hard choices

President Gül’s hard choices

Outgoing President Abdullah Gül’s Bayram (Eid al-Fitr) message was the first of many farewell messages he will undoubtedly issue before his tenure officially ends on Aug. 28. Eyes are on him now to see if he remains in active politics or not.

Despite having declared a number of months ago that he has no political plans for the future, Gül recently backtracked and said he was willing to continue serving the nation, raising hopes among his supporters in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Meanwhile, journalists close to the party continue to tell us Gül is the only person in the AKP with the majority of support behind him that can replace Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as party leader and become prime minister.

The feedback from the same journalists also shows that Erdoğan, who is widely expected to be elected president in just over 10 days, is not all happy with the prospect of seeing Gül as prime minister. Gül’s Bayram message hints at why this may be.

“Our main agenda should be prevailing principles like good governance, transparency, accountability and the rule of law, as well as increasing the quality of education, high democratic standards and the full membership process to enter the European Union,” Gül declared in his message.

He added that he has always defended democracy, rule of law, human rights and freedoms and underlined again that he remained at the service of the nation. Looked at from Erdoğan’s perspective, none of this is good.

To start with, Erdoğan intends to violate the “rule of law” principle as soon as he becomes president by using powers the Constitution does not provide for. As to “transparency” and “accountability,” the clouds of suspicion over him following the Dec. 17 corruption investigation of 2013 have not fully dispersed.

These issues will haunt Erdoğan by constantly being brought up in the future by his rivals and opponents. Throwing the policemen involved in that investigation into prison on the eve of presidential elections has also increased the number of people who have an axe to grind with him.

Erdoğan always pays lip service to democracy, rule of law, human rights and freedoms, but his record concerning these principles are well known by now.

Whether Gül has actually defended these principles in the final analysis is also open to debate, of course.

After all, Gül did sign most of the government’s less-than-democratic laws, such as the ones clamping down on the Internet, or putting the judiciary under government control, harming his own credibility in doing so. Some argue in his defense that Gül did this knowing that these laws would be overruled by the Constitutional Court, which is what eventually happened.

Whatever the case may be, his latest remarks show he is still keen on an advanced democracy in Turkey based on EU rules. It is obvious, however, that these rules do not quite tally with Erdoğan’s desire to be an elected leader who governs without the exuberance of any checks and balances.

If Gül decides “to serve the nation” by becoming prime minister, and acts in the future according to the principles he outlined in his Bayram message, he has no choice but to curb Erdoğan according to these principles.

That, however, is something Gül did not do at crucial moments during his tenure as president, as developments – particularly after last summer’s Gezi Park protests – clearly show. The bottom line is Gül will be torn between “serving the nation” and Erdoğan’s political ambitions.

That could prove to be a tall order for him, forcing him to stick to his initial decision and pull out of politics since he would not want to hinder Erdoğan, but also not wanting to appear as his lackey. Erdoğan would clearly like him to withdraw, too, under these circumstances, even if he has failed thus far to produce a name to head the AKP and keep it unified the way Gül can.

All of this leaves Gül facing some very hard choices.