We know for sure that what Sever said in that interview was not his personal opinion and that Sever did not give that interview without Gül’s knowledge. We know this because, first and foremost, Gül has not answered any questions so far as to whether he will run for a second term in office. He has always managed to dismiss these questions skillfully and in his unique, polite manner. In the interview, Sever noted that Gül was very upset about comments the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has made about his candidacy, making it clear that he might run for a second term in office. His statement is remarkable because Gül is the only person who carries enough weight to compete with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the presidential office in Turkey.
It was known that Gül was particularly upset by the debate that emerged following an amendment to the way the president is elected, enabling the general public to elect someone to the post directly. Indeed, he had been elected by Parliament for a seven-year term under the old laws. In 2007, he was nominated for the presidential post and, under normal circumstances, would have been elected without a hitch as the AK Party had secured the absolute majority of parliamentary seats. However, the judicial tutelage did not give him the green light. The pro-tutelage coalition spread propaganda that if a man with a wife who wears a headscarf were to be elected President, the secular regime would collapse and Turkey would become a country like Iran, and they did their best to block Gül’s election.
A plan by the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals
The Turkish Grand National Assembly has 550 seats, and any candidate who could secure 276 votes would be elected president. The ruling AK Party had enough seats to secure a hassle-free election of their candidate, Gül. However, there was a strong coalition against the AK Party and the members of this coalition were highly effective, particularly in the military and judicial bureaucracy. The junta had failed to overthrow the government in 2003 and 2004 as they had planned, but they fiercely continued their struggle. Then, former Chief Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals Sabih Kanadoğlu claimed that a two-thirds majority, not an absolute majority, of Parliament -- i.e., the support of 367 deputies -- would be needed for the election of the president. This was an ingenious yet evil trap.
Of course, their main purpose was not to ensure that the election complied with the Constitution but to maintain their secular hold on the presidency by calling the tutelage’s monopoly over the judiciary to the rescue. Actually, they didn’t care for secularism, either. They did not want to lose the highest post the Kemalist, bureaucratic and neo-nationalist (ulusalcı) tutelage had ever held in the country. Regardless of whoever might be in office as the government, the real power had always been in the hands of this elite minority, which was empowered by lines already drawn and military power. There was an ongoing power struggle and, for the first time in the country’s history, a party that derived its power from the public was able to so powerfully resist the tutelage.
This evil invention by the chief public prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals was hailed a miracle by the tutelary groups, all of which put their weight behind this machination. Despite all its illegality, it quickly assumed credit. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) became the main advocate of this idea in Parliament. The matter was eventually referred to the Constitutional Court. In a scandalous decision, the court held that the president could be elected only with the support of 367 deputies. Still, the AK Party did not give in, instead taking the presidential election to a referendum. Gül secured a whopping 60 percent of the general vote.
Later, the government amended the laws on how the president is elected, allowing the president to be elected directly by the public for a tenure of five years, with the possibility of being elected for a second consecutive term.
However, Gül had been elected under the old laws. There were always questions about Gül’s status. Because he had been elected under the old laws, would his tenure be seven years under the old laws or five years under the new laws? Could Gül be re-elected irrespective of the length of his tenure?
The CHP took this matter to the Constitutional Court as well. The court held that Gül’s tenure is seven years and, therefore, the next presidential elections will be held in 2014. They also decided that Gül’s has the right to run for a second term in office.
In other words, a debate that started in 2007 was not settled until 2012, although the AK Party had the power to settle it sooner.
Debate over Gül’s status
In the intervening five years, the debate surrounding President Gül’s status was occasionally rekindled. In the meantime, the AK Party deputies were never polite towards Gül. They would parrot their self-styled conclusion that Gül would not run for a second term in office, and they did so in an artless manner. They would frequently underline the long-lasting, strong bond of camaraderie between Erdoğan and Gül and say the latter would not put the cat among the pigeons. They would say this because Erdoğan had announced Gül’s nomination for president by saying, “Our candidate is my brother Gül,” and waiving his right to be elected president. Accordingly, while Gül might be entitled to run for president in 2014, he would not to compete with Erdoğan, they would further conclude.
As a matter of fact, the whole process imparts a serious element of artificiality. The senior executives of the AK Party might convey a rosy picture, but the picture in 2007 was not as rosy as they depicted and neither Turkey nor the AK Party is the same as they were then.
Returning to the urban legend that Erdoğan self-sacrificially handed the presidency to Gül on a golden platter, documents from WikiLeaks tell quite a different story, at least as regards the US. According to these documents, on May 9, 2007, US Consul General to Ankara Janice G. Weiner sent a “confidential” telegram titled “FM Gül as the behind-the-scenes master.” The telegram reads: “The way Gul’s candidacy ultimately played out was a reflection of the long-running partnership -- and rivalry -- between PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Gul, according to our contact. From the outset, the biggest hurdle was Erdogan who, until the last minute, proved unwilling to renounce his personal presidential ambitions. The PM waited so long that there was no time to cushion a Gul candidacy via the media, whose initial reactions to Gul’s candidacy had been positive. The PM squandered an opportunity better to prepare both the military and the public. At that point, the opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) could have savored its ‘anyone but Erdogan’ victory and Gul, who enjoyed good relations both with CHP and with the military, could have helped smooth the way.”
Going a little, we see that Gül is not a person who is crushed or overwhelmed by Erdoğan’s leadership. There is serious competition and contention between them. They hold each other in constant control. According to a WikiLeaks leak dated March 30, 2012, Turkey expert Emre Doğru tried to obtain information from Hasan Nuri Yaşar, whom he describes as Erdoğan’s “adviser and close friend” and who has been serving as a deputy minister of the European Union since October 2011, in order to find out whether Erdoğan intends to become president. Referring to Yaşar with the codename TR701 in his three pieces of correspondence, Doğru said Erdoğan’s primary purpose is to become president.
In correspondence dated Sept. 20, 2010, Doğru explains that Turkey will transition to the presidential system with the new constitution. He additionally attributes these words to Yaşar: “Tayyip Erdoğan will not allow Gül to be re-elected president. The next president will be Erdoğan.”
Keeping Gül under siege
Although such competition is normal in a democratic country, Gül has so far been kept under siege in the eyes of the public with such non-political concepts as camaraderie, loyalty or indebtedness. True, these two politicians are smart enough to postpone their personal ambitions while combating the tutelage and coup threats. However, today, Erdoğan feels he has full control over the state apparatus. There is no longer any coup threat. There is no political rival that can challenge the AK Party’s hold on political power, either. Naturally, he seeks to transition the country to a presidential system and become president in 2014 and continue to rule the country as the only strong leader. There is no place for a strong rival like Gül in this picture. This is because Erdoğan plans to leave his Prime Ministry to a proxy who will not be at odds with him and whom he will be able to domineer. Gül would never be such a weak politician.
There are other problems as well. It is not hard to guess that President Gül does not like the arrogant policies Erdoğan has been pursuing during his latest term of office, which Erdoğan calls a “period of mastery.” Erdoğan has made choices of which Gül would never approve in such matters as the match-fixing bill, the Uludere tragedy -- in which 34 civilians were mistaken for terrorists and killed by military airstrikes in Şırnak’s Uludere district due to false intelligence -- and the ensuing harsh attitudes of the government, and the feeble policies pursued after Syria shot down a Turkish jet.
In sum, no one can know what Gül’s choice will be in 2014. However, it should be acknowledged that Gül is entitled to run for a second term in office, that Erdoğan is working to keep Gül under pressure and that many things have changed in Turkey since 2007.