President Gül’s unhappy departure

President Gül’s unhappy departure

President Abdullah Gül’s remarks to journalists during his farewell reception on Tuesday show that his departure is not a happy one for either him or the first lady. By his own admission, Gül is offended over the speculation in the media that has surrounded his name in the lead-up to and after the Aug. 10 presidential elections.

“I have witnessed what was written by those who said ‘he should not be president,’ as well as those who had me establishing a new party and pushing me to other fronts,” Gül said. “I saw quite a bit of disrespect from our own camp.”

His remarks point to the Justice and Development Party (AKP), of course. He is clearly offended at AKP circles who worked to ensure that he does not become a presidential candidate again, or assume a leadership position in the AKP that might complicate things for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once he becomes president.

Gül’s wife, Hayrünissa, went further and revealed the kind of people their anger is aimed at. During the reception she refused to shake the hand of Abdülkadir Selvi, a prominent columnist for the pro-AKP daily Yeni Şafak who became Erdoğan’s mouthpiece during the presidential campaign.

She told Selvi to his face that she is “very angry with him.” In his column and live comments, Selvi openly suggested that Gül should not undermine Erdogan’s position in any way, also intimating that this was the general feeling within the AKP.

During his farewell reception remarks, Gül also repeated that he is in favor of a parliamentary system for Turkey, although he did say a presidential system could also be democratic if it is based on checks and balances.

These were also loaded words, given Erdoğan’s dream of establishing a presidential system that is limited by as few checks and balances as possible. In addition, Gül also signaled once again that he has no intention of leaving politics, saying he will continue to serve the AKP.

“As president I approached everyone equally. Now that my presidency is over, it is possible for me to return to my political identity. I am, after all, one of the people who planted the first seeds of the AKP, wrote its program, and changed Turkey,” he said.

These are not remarks that those AKP circles which Gül accuses of being disrespectful towards him will be happy to hear. They know that as long as Gül remains active in or around the AKP, he will be a point of attraction for those who are disgruntled with Erdoğan the party’s new leader and prime minister after Erdoğan becomes president.

Tellingly, Gül also pronounced Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s name as Erdoğan’s replacement during his farewell reception, underlining that Davutoğlu was his protégé. Some see a hint of displeasure in these remarks too, saying that Gül is reminding everyone that if Davutoğlu becomes prime minister then he (Gül) will have been one of his main stepping stones.

Whether this is what Gül meant is a moot point. But he is obviously unhappy over the turn of events. Time will tell what this displeasure produces politically. In the meantime, Gül will have an opportunity to consider why he has landed in the position that he finds himself in, and whether he has played his cards correctly, given his intention to remain politically active.

Gül always put himself up as a strong advocate for democracy and the need to remain firmly committed to EU standards in this regard. But he rubberstamped just about everything the AKP sent him as president - including legislation restricting the Internet and bringing the judiciary under government control.

Many believe that he should have held his ground more firmly as Erdoğan and the AKP embarked on less than democratic ways. This would certainly have put him on more solid ground politically today. If Gül really wants to return to active politics he will have much to mull over now.