Speculation is rising on whether the champion of Turkey’s EU accession talks in the first AKP governments, Abdullah Gul, is ready to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The British-educated Gul has publically criticized many of the policies that have polarized Turkish politics. He spoke out the vague wording of emergency legislation introduced after the July 2016 coup attempt, questioning that they were in keeping with the rule of law principle.
15 Temmuz hain darbe teşebbüsüne karşı arkasına bakmadan sokağa çıkıp direnen kahraman vatandaşlarımızı koruma amacıyla çıkartıldığını düşündüğüm 696 sayılı KHK’nın yazımındaki hukuk diliyle bağdaşmayan muğlaklık, hukuk devleti anlayışı açısından kaygı vericidir.
— Abdullah Gül (@cbabdullahgul) December 25, 2017
The question is whether Erdogan will face Gul as a challenger in the November 2019 Presidential elections, after which sweeping constitutional powers are triggered for the office of the President. With a significantly weaker parliament and no prime minister in place, President Erdogan would be leading the most powerful executive in Europe.
The former Economist analyst and current al-monitor contributor Amberin Zaman has argued that the AKP movement may in fact be heading towards an internal rift, with the first democratically elected former President Gul taking on the would be super-President Erdogan. Apparently, Zaman is in good company as a number of analysts in Turkey that do not work for government-aligned outlets seem to believe that Gul is bracing for a challenge, including Rusen Cakir of MedyaScopeTV.
Behind the scenes pollsters apparently agree that Gul would present a formidable challenge, although most agree that Gul is not known for taking political risks. No one doubts he would be able to find the 100,000 signatures required for his nomination as a candidate. Gul is seen as the answer to many questions regarding the fragmentation of the AKP support base.
Gul could appeal to traditional Muslim conservatives and the Kurds. His leadership in negotiations achieved great leaps in the status of the Kurdish minority. And as the former Islamic Development Bank employee is also considered as the architect of an economic policy designed to bolster development in Anatolia. His legacy and credentials with the grassroots political Islam in Turkey is well known since the 1990s.
These are only some of the credentials that the current leader of the opposition, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, does not have. The once mighty Republic Party (CHP) has not made gains beyond 25% and is not likely to command the support of the pro-Kurdish left, HDP. Meanwhile, according to diplomatic sources, it is also hoped that Gul can begin to repair relations with the West, as Ankara has alienated EU and NATO allies such as Germany. That is an objective that could rally support among Turkey’s former laic elite.