Who will be Turkey’s next vice president?

Who will be Turkey’s next vice president?

One common assessment that political leaders expressed at their parliamentary group meetings yesterday was that the presidency was not something that should be taken for granted by anyone. Some 53 million voters will cast their votes on Aug. 10 to elect Turkey’s next president and political analysts all predict that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is very close to becoming the next head of state.

Accepting this as the most likely scenario, let’s look into the discussions in Ankara of who might be the next prime minister and therefore the head of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

President Abdullah Gül is often mentioned as the top contester for this position in the post-Erdoğan era. His statement last week saying that he has no political plans for the future under today’s conditions was interpreted in two different ways. The first category suggested that Gül wanted to express that he won’t be “Erdoğan’s yes-man prime minister,” and therefore he was open to discuss his second term as president. The second category, however, while acknowledging that Gül’s second term is technically possible, is of the opinion that his chance of leading the AKP and the government after Erdoğan is getting thin.

Politically speaking, Erdoğan would perhaps show all his respect to Gül, but would seek some other individuals for the prime ministry who would be unquestionably supportive of him throughout his mandate in the presidential palace. Obviously, Gül is not that person. He has full respect and credit among the AKP ranks, especially among his old fellows, but Erdoğan’s close circle is critical of him over various issues, especially since the Gezi Park demonstrations.   

Only three days after Gül made this statement, another important figure from the AKP, deputy leader Mehmet Ali Şahin, suggested that one of the four current deputy prime ministers could perfectly handle this very hard task, although it was his own idea. They are: Bülent Arınç, Beşir Atalay, Ali Babacan and Emrullah İşler.

A deputy prime minister and spokesperson for the government, Arınç is the most experienced among them. He is one of the five founders of the AKP and has always played a crucial role throughout its time in government. Different from many of his colleagues in the party, Arınç is well-known for having an independent mind and the courage to express it when he notices the government’s mistakes. That’s how he came to have one of the harshest rows with Erdoğan last year over the Gezi Park protests. His decision to resign from his post after Erdoğan harshly slammed him in front of other Cabinet ministers could only be reversed after intense efforts from his fellows. In this regard, Arınç would not be an ideal prime minister for Erdoğan.

Deputy Prime Minister Atalay is known to be the architect of the Kurdish peace process and coordinates the anti-terror board and other terror-related issues. Along with Hakan Fidan, the head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), he frequently hits the headlines of the pro-Gülen media over his alleged ties with Iran and over the ongoing Kurdish peace process. Atalay is surely playing a key role in the government, but his popularity inside the party is not very high. One question, therefore, about Atalay’s potential as prime minister, is whether he can control the party and keep the party’s votes up around 45 percent.

The deputy prime minister responsible for the economy, Babacan, is the other candidate. There is no question that Babacan is one of few irreplaceable ministers in the Cabinet. Erdoğan is aware that he should be grateful to Babacan for keeping the Turkish economy in stable waters. As a former foreign minister and chief negotiator for EU talks, Babacan is a well-known international figure and him being prime minister would give Erdoğan a fresh breath in Turkey’s ties with the world. One point in this picture is that Babacan is known to have already expressed that he plans to quit politics next year. He would be a good prime minister, but his close ties with Gül would irk some of Erdoğan’s men in the party.

Emrullah İşler was appointed as deputy prime minister in the last Cabinet reshuffle. In the case of Erdoğan bidding to find a “fully loyal, yes-man prime minister,” İşler would be the greatest nominee.

However, apart from these individuals, there are other contenders for the post too. Among them are Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, former Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım, AKP Deputy Head Numan Kurtulmuş, Deputy Head Mehmet Ali Şahin, and others.

Turkey’s next prime minister will likely be Turkey’s first vice president, and the one who is most accordant with the president will be selected from among this group.

Who will be Turkey’s next vice president?