Istanbul, Asharq Al-Awsat—Cracks have appeared within Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prepares to move into Çankaya presidential palace, while the man he is replacing, Abdullah Gül, is eyeing the soon to be vacant post of party chairman.
The Republic of Turkey looks set to be on the verge of major political changes, not just with a new president, prime minister and AKP party chairman expected to be confirmed within the coming weeks, but also indications that Erdoğan could seek to transform the country from a parliamentary to a presidential political system.
The outgoing prime minister and incoming president is a controversial figure; supporters compare him to the republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, while opponents criticize the AKP’s brand of political Islam, warning against “Sultan” Erdoğan.
Controversy now revolves around who will lead the AKP after Erdoğan steps down with outgoing President Abdullah Gül appearing ready to throw his hat in the ring. “I was one of the founders of the party. I was the first prime minister and president [to be elected from the party]. It is pretty natural [for me] to return to my party,” Gül told a group of reporters on Monday.
A meeting of the AKP’s highest decision-making body, the Central Decision and Executive Board, met earlier this week during which members were asked to nominate both a party chairman and prime minister in a secret ballot. An expanded meeting of the AKP’s provincial chairs is set to take place on Thursday to discuss the same issue.
Turkish writer and journalist Teoman Alili told Asharq Al-Awsat that the latest developments on the political scene represent the final steps in a long and well-laid plan.
“For Erdoğan and his supporters, his ascendancy to the presidency and then converting the system into a presidential one, represent the last two steps to him being accepted as a sultan first in Turkey and later in the Islamic world,” Alili said, adding that “Erdoğan wants to be a global leader.”
However Teoman Alili warned that Erdoğan’s plans would ultimately fail. “The facts on the ground will not allow this to happen, because Erdoğan and the group around him do not have the capability or power to change the [political] system at this point.”
“It is true that he won [the presidency] in the first round with 52 percent of the vote, but this will have a negative impact on him as he will lose control of the AKP. This is why we are seeing disagreements within the party and movement by the wing supporting Abdullah Gül,” Alili added.
The AKP’s congress is set to meet later this month on August 27 to formally elect a new leader who will also be tasked with forming a new government. Many local and international political analysts have said that Erdoğan may be seeking to marginalize Gül, a powerful figure within the AKP, in order to keep hold of his grip of the party.
Professor Mazhar Bağlı of Yıldırım Beyazıt University has called for a younger figure to replace Erdoğan, aged 60, as party chief and prime minister, specifically citing deputy PM Emrullah İşler (aged 54), foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (aged 56) and Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekçi (aged 53).
“Now is the time to talk about Erdoğan’s effect on the AKP. Will he gradually lose his leadership of the AKP, or will he seek to control the party from the presidential palace?” Alili asked.