Will Gül run for president again?

Will Gül run for president again?

Ahmet Sever, who is the chief adviser to President Abdullah Gül, stirred the political cauldron this week. His remarks, in an interview with a leading paper, during which he said Gül could, if he chose, run for president again in 2014, fell like a bombshell among Justice and Development Party (AKP) cohorts who hope to see Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as the next president.

AKP members were also taken aback when Sever bluntly revealed that Gül was seriously offended over the legislative moves by the ruling party to try and block any chance that he may run for president again. That attempt was halted in its tracks by the Constitutional Court, thus opening Gül’s way should he choose to run.

AKP deputies are angry at Sever now for sullying the atmosphere at a time when the transition for Erdoğan from prime minister to president was expected to go smoothly.

Should Gül run, this would clearly throw a spanner in the works.

AKP party hacks maintain Sever merely expressed his own opinions. Everyone is nevertheless aware that Sever could not have spoken without some go ahead from the president. The whole subject is clearly of interest to the diplomatic community in Ankara as well.

This was apparent from the number of diplomats who called asking what they should read into Sever’s remarks. This interest is not surprising since the prospect of an Erdoğan presidency, especially one with enhanced constitutional powers, is a principle topic of interest abroad as much as it is in Turkey.

The main question is whether Gül will, in fact, choose to run in 2014. Many in Turkey would like him to. He is, after all, considered to be a moderate man and has gained respect at home and in the world for his wise stance on a host of touchy issues, domestic or otherwise.

His demeanor also contrasts sharply with Erdoğan’s abrasive and intolerant one. But whether he will run or not will no doubt remain an open question until the end, seeing as there is more involved than Gül’s personal desires and ambitions.

Angry as he may be toward the AKP, the fact is that Gül and Erdoğan are comrades in arms, having set off on their political mission together. Many predict he will not run in the end, simply because the pressure on him to avoid harming “the movement” will be too much. Many say he himself will not want run anyway under these circumstances, whatever the pressure may be on him.

The prevalent expectation is that a Putin-Medvedev type change of roles will take place in 2014 between Gül and Erdoğan. But it is also known that Gül is opposed to the kind of presidential system the AKP wants to introduce in Turkey.

Rather than strengthening the presidency, and making it all-powerful, Gül believes the present parliamentary system should be cleansed of its shortcomings and improved in order to further enhance Turkey’s democracy. This begs a question about the Putin-Medvedev model.

Would Gül want to become prime minister after the authority of this office has been reduced in favor of the presidency? Neither the AKP nor Erdoğan have talked about the checks and balances that would exist in the presidential system they desire, which shows that they desire it to be unencumbered.

This is what is worrying for many, especially given Erdoğan’s by now well-known authoritarian tendencies. Many believe therefore that Gül should run in 2014 in order to give the electorate a viable option against Erdoğan, arguing this would be good for democracy.

But whether Gül will be able to overcome his ideological inclinations in order to do this, or not, remains to be seen. Still, there are two more years to go before the presidential elections and that is a long time for politics and politicians. Much water will have passed under the bridge by then so it remains difficult to predict what Gül will do.

What is certain, however, is that unless Gül clarifies Sever’s remarks, the guessing game will continue.