Why Gül’s office has become a ‘wailing wall’ for AKP dissidents

Why Gül’s office has become a ‘wailing wall’ for AKP dissidents

Next year at this time, the only thing that will dominate the agenda will be the presidential elections and who will be Turkey’s next president. President Abdullah Gül’s mandate will expire on Aug. 28 and as the next president will be elected through popular vote, the election campaign will begin much earlier.

With so many questions still lingering on whether the Justice and Development Party (AKP) will attempt to amend the Constitution to adopt the presidential system or whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will run for the post under the current system, it’s no doubt that the key actors of this upcoming process will be Gül and Erdoğan, the founders of the AKP and long-time friends.

But now these two old friends are at loggerheads. Contrary to their tradition in not publicizing their disagreements, these two men not longer hesitate to criticize each other in public and have used the media to weaken the other on a number of critical issues.

One recent example of these moves occurred two weeks ago when a newspaper suggested that Gül had already started his plans to establish his own political party and had even rented an office in downtown Ankara which was swiftly denied by the presidency. There are those who believe that the prime minister’s office is behind this fabricated story in a bid to tarnish Gül’s reputation in society. In return, we often read news about how Gül influences Erdoğan on issues critical to the functioning of the system as in the case of a law allowing more and more non-career diplomats to fill crucial desks at the Foreign Ministry or, as occurred during the high days of the Gezi Parkı protests, when it was the president who called on the police to open Taksim Square to demonstrators in a bid to stop the protests from becoming more violent with casualties.

It’s no secret that Gül has become one of the most important opposition figures against the government’s policies on many important issues, varying from the Gezi Parkı protests to Syria-Egypt policies and from freedom of expression to the presidential system.

More surprising is that Gül’s concerns are shared by many AKP lawmakers and even high-level party executives who often knock on the doors of the presidency to complain about Erdoğan’s policies and political manner. They are being followed by senior civil servants and high-level state officials who cannot get their voices heard by the government, especially on issues sensitive and critical to the country’s security.

This conversion of the presidency into a sort of “wailing wall” for government dissidents is a clear sign that Gül is still the most important option for those who believe it is the right time to plan for a post-Erdoğan era in Turkey. For the Erdoğan camp, the priority is to secure at least 50 percent of the votes in the first round of presidential elections to let the prime minister become the head of the nation. Among the options for Erdoğan is to bring forward parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2015, making them effectively simultaneous with the presidential elections, to give him and his party an upper hand for both votes. This plan would nix Gül’s plans to get ready for the AKP leadership and, thus, for the Prime Ministry as well. But the indicators are there to show that Gül is not likely to remain passive throughout this course either.