Turkish former president Gül guiding new party in bid to challenge Erdoğan - columnist

Turkish national elections are likely to take place before they are scheduled in 2023, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will face stiff competition from old allies, a columnist known for his close links to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said on Monday.

A new political movement being formed by Ali Babacan, a former AKP deputy prime minister, is actually a vehicle for Erdoğan’s former ally Abdullah Gül to launch a challenge for the presidency, Abdulkadir Selvi said in his column for Hürriyet newspaper.

Gül was a founding member of the AKP and served as prime minister, foreign minister and president during the party’s first 12 years in power, but has kept his distance from politics since Erdoğan succeeded him in the presidency in 2014.

But opposition to Erdoğan within the AKP has been growing, and Gül plans to run as a unity candidate in the next presidential election and draw support from both AKP rebels and opposition circles, Selvi said.

“Gül does not want to become the chair of a political party because he wishes to stand as an umbrella candidate in presidential elections for the (opposition) Nation Alliance. But he is known to be the leader of (Babacan’s) party,” Selvi said.

The plan depends on the approval of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which could instead choose to run Ekrem İmamoğlu, who rose to national prominence this year by winning the Istanbul mayoral election, Selvi said.

Gül served as the AKP’s first prime minister when the party won general elections in 2002, but stood aside allowing Erdoğan to assume the role the next year, when parliament voted to allow him to take political office despite having served time in prison. Erdoğan had served four months in jail in 1999 for inciting religious hatred during a period of tension between secularists and the AKP’s Islamist predecessors.

As Erdoğan rose in recent years to gain unrivalled powers under a new executive presidential system, Gül has frequently been touted as a possible challenger due to his broad popularity with the AKP’s conservative voter base.

The former president was considered a possible unity candidate in last year’s presidential elections, but failed to gain support from the opposition nationalist Good Party.