Istanbul, Turkey – An increasingly public rift between founding members of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was on full display recently as outgoing Prime Minister and President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan moves to cement his hold on the party leadership.
The nomination of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as Turkey’s next prime minister was seen by some as confirmation of Erdogan’s efforts to put a subservient prime minister into place, and freeze out AKP co-founder and Turkey’s outgoing President, Abdullah Gul.
Davutoglu is expected to be voted in at the AKP extraordinary congress on Wednesday, and will be tasked with forming the new government.
“I have the feeling this is getting personal,” said Ilter Turan, political science professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, about the Erdogan-Gul rift. “It’s no longer just about party policies.”
I have the feeling this is getting personal. It's no longer just about party policies.
Speculation has been mounting over a brewing power struggle within the party, and Gul’s future role within its leadership, after AKP leader Erdogan secured the five-year presidency by a narrow margin in the country’s first direct presidential elections on August 10.
Erdogan, who won the presidency with 51.9 percent support amid low voter turnout, is widely expected to push for constitutional amendments to bolster the role of president, currently a largely ceremonial post under the country’s parliamentary system.
Addressing reporters at a farewell reception in Ankara last week, Gul predicted Davutoglu would become the new leader of the AKP, but also noted that he favours a parliamentary system, in the most direct contradiction to Erdogan’s stated policies yet.
Gul lamented what he described as “disrespectful behaviour” by some party members, while Turkish newspaper reports also said Gul’s wife, Hayrunnisa Gul, snubbed some pro-government journalists attending the reception, refusing to shake their hands.
With solid party credentials, and having increasingly fallen foul of Erdogan in the last year, notably over a widespread corruption scandal enveloping the party, Turan said Gul would never have been the pliable prime minister Erdogan sought. “He has tried to prevent Gul form coming back and trying to take back the prime ministership. All of the founders are going to be out of parliament by next elections,” Turan said.
In cautious remarks before his nomination as prime minister, the usually mild-mannered Gul appeared to wish Davutoglu well, but also noted his own role in shaping the minister’s career.
|Inside Story – Erdogan: A new Turkish era?|
“As far as it seems, our Foreign Minister Ahmet [Davutoglu] will take over [the prime ministry]. You know that it’s me who brought him into politics and into state life. It was me who appointed him as an ambassador,” Gul told the reporters.
Whether this public disagreement will damage the AKP’s chances in parliamentary elections scheduled for next year is unclear.
Foreign policy considerations, particularly the emergence of the Islamic State group in nearby Iraq and Syria, could prove critical, according to Sinan Ulgen, visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe. “I think the Turkish public by and large disapproves of the type of criticism that Gul has faced from within his own political family … When you look at the opinion polls within the AKP constituency, he remains a popular figure,” Ulgen told Al Jazeera.
“Whether this will hurt [the AKP’s] popularity in the election, that’s a different question. It will really be about the economy about foreign policy and about [Islamic State].”
The next ten months Gul will wait and try to catch up some of the space he has lost. Gul doesn't accept his new role and his character is to wait.
Erdogan’s election victory has been largely attributed to his popularity among conservative Muslim voters and his economic credentials, despite a drop in personal approval ratings.
But critical economic indicators suggest a more difficult year ahead; exports are declining, inflation is going up, and industrial production is decreasing.
“If the performance of the economy worsens – and there are indications that it might – the president’s ability to conduct his politics with a party that is wholly subservient may not work,” Turan told Al Jazeera.
Turkey has a history of new parties emerging from such splits, but analysts were divided on whether Gul was willing or able to mount a proactive challenge to Erdogan, despite the deep fissures.
“Gul will remain a potential challenge to Davutoglu,” Ulgen said, adding that it was “unlikely Gul will engineer a challenge proactively”.
“Erdogan already began preparing the party over two years ago,” said Nihat Ali Ozcan, senior policy analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey. “The next ten months Gul will wait and try to catch up some of the space he has lost. Gul doesn’t accept his new role and his character is to wait. But he can’t try to create any new allegiances in the party.”