Doubts abound over Gül run for Turkish presidency

It is doubtful whether former President Abdullah Gül will run for office next year, despite speculation he may mount a challenge to current incumbent, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Gül is very risk-averse and probably will not put himself forward as a candidate in the presidential election, Gönül Tol, director of Turkish studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington, told Politico.

“For him to decide to run, he’d have to know it’s bulletproof,” she said. “I talked to some people who are personally very close to him who say he’s waiting for the right moment. But I feel very sceptical.”

A public spat between the two politicians raised hopes among the opposition that Gül might challenge Erdoğan, who is seeking a mandate at the poll to turn Turkey’s system of government into a full presidential system with few checks and balances. Erdoğan has become increasingly dictatorial, distancing the country from the West and cosying up to President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Gül has voiced concern about Erdoğan’s plans to beef up the presidency, and last month criticised Erdoğan for a decree that provides immunity from prosecution to civilians who fought soldiers during an attempted coup in July 2016 and dealing with any “acts of terror” since. Opponents argue that the decree encourages violence and vigilantes, as the legal definition of terrorism is broad in Turkey.

Erdoğan lashed back at a rally a few days later, telling Gül, “shame on you…Did we not share the same cause?”

Political scientist Sezin Oney told opposition daily Evrensel that the anti-Erdoğan camp should not expect Gül to come to its aid as he is a “wholehearted member of the AKP.”

Gül stood in for Erdoğan as prime minister when the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won power in 2002 because the latter was banned from public office because of a conviction for using religion to incite hated. After his return, Erdoğan selected Gül as his party’s candidate for president in 2007.

Last week, Abdullatif Şener, an AKP co-founder who has split from the party, ridiculed Gül, calling his comments a “small, shy, timid expression of criticism”.

Suat Kınıklıoğlu, who served as an AKP member of parliament from 2007 to 2011, told Politico that he thought Gül’s recent comments suggested he was “not comfortable with just observing,” but did not believe Gül would necessarily run for office.

“I am more inclined to think that he sees himself as a man who has been in a meaningful office in Turkish politics and that he feels he is entitled to comment on issues of national importance,” he said.