Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan barrels on

The machinations in Turkey’s ruling party are reaching fever pitch as President Erdogan continues his drive to empower the presidency, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The prime minister and Justice and Development Party (JDP) candidate Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the presidential elections on 10 August. All political forces — apart from the ruling JDP, of course — cried out in one voice that Erdogan’s premiership, his membership in parliament and his chairmanship of his political party had now come to an end.

Legal specialists have agreed and stressed that Erdogan is now in breach of the constitution. Any decisions he takes will be regarded as null and void. They added that Erdogan’s insistence on remaining in office as premier until he is sworn in as president on 28 August would lead to a constitutional crisis.

The Sözcüsü newspaper once called Erdogan, now seen by many as an authoritarian, “Anatolia’s 37th sultan” (36 sultans ruled the Ottoman empire until its collapse after World War I). The outcry has gained momentum with protestors waving copies of the constitutional provisions that Erdogan is breaching.

Article 101 states: “The President-elect, if a member of a party, shall sever his relations with his party and his status as a member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly [abbreviated in Turkish as TBMM] shall cease.” The president is presumed to be neutral and to keep the same distance from all political forces and movements.

According to Article 109, no one can head a government if he is not a member of the TBMM. The moment that the Supreme Electoral Commission issued the official results of the presidential polls last Saturday, Erdogan’s membership in the TBMM automatically ceased. Because of this, he should no longer remain prime minister. The JDP, however, is determined that its leader should remain.

Although Speaker of Parliament Cemil Çiçek is aware of the opinions of legal and constitutional specialists, he appears unwilling to anger the Erdogan. After some delay he instructed the Supreme Electoral Commission, a body controlled by the ruling party, and JDP lawmakers to study the matter in order to avert a possible crisis.

To give credit where credit is due, they performed the task required of them and soon produced a report that was placed on the desk of Abdullah Gül, the outgoing president. The report’s conclusions were diametrically opposed to the aspirations of Erdogan and his coterie.

The experts who drafted the report drew attention to a similar case that occurred at the end of the term of Turkey’s seventh president, Ahmet Kenan Evren, who was to be succeeded by Türgüt Ozal. Alerted to the constitutional predicament, Evren sent a letter to parliament on 1 November 1989 stressing that Ozal’s term as prime minister had ended the moment he was elected president the day before (31 October). Without waiting for a response, Evren appointed a successor to Ozal, thereby pre-empting a bid on the part of the latter to cling to the premiership.

According to this precedent, Gül has the ultimate say on the thorny question that now has many fellow JDP members troubled.

Erinç Bülent is the powerful number-two in the party and the government. Erdogan has been working to marginalise him, on the pretext of making way for youth. Bülent is doing his utmost to pave the way for Abdullah Gül to return to power as prime minister. This would throw a huge spanner into Erdogan’s plan of appointing a prime minister who would be at the beck and call of the presidential palace.

Clearly, a conflict is seething in the corridors of the ruling party, with Erdogan’s clique waging a battle to eliminate all members of the JDP’s old guard, apart from their leader.

Bülent made some revealing remarks in this regard. He said there were some quarters in the party that were treating him, Abdullah Gül and 70 other JDP deputies as substances whose validity dates had expired. They had been told that, according to their party’s principles, they could not field themselves in new elections.

He went on to warn that party solidarity was at stake, and advised his fellow party members to oppose those who were working to remove them. He called for the return to politics of his colleague and fellow JDP founder Abdullah Gül.

Against this backdrop, one is not surprised at the mudslinging campaigns targeting Gül on Turkish social networking sites. One also cannot help but suspect that Erdogan had a hand in this, given his well-known aversion to potential rivals.

Nor is it a coincidence to suddenly find in the news outlets that belong heart and soul to the president-elect articles that pose the question: “Will Abdullah Gül be brought to trial?” The articles refer to an old case that was brought before the first penal court in Ankara. Gül was charged with corruption involving missing funds amounting to a trillion lira (in the old Turkish currency), then the equivalent of $10 million, and falsifying documents to cover the crime during the Necmettin Erbakan government in the 1990s.

The public prosecutor dropped the case after Gül was elected the country’s 11th president in 2007. The suggestion is that the case might be reopened after Gül loses his presidential immunity.

The case appears to be part of an anti-Gül campaign. The announcement of an emergency party conference on 27 August, one day before Gül’s last day in office, is clearly an attempt to prevent him from being nominated to head the party that he co-founded with Erdogan. The president-elect indicated that this was his plan when he said that only one person would head the JDP and serve as prime minister.

A name to fill those two posts has already been put forward: Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. With Gül side-lined and a well known yes-man in place as party head and prime minister, the stage is set for Turkey’s conversion to a presidential system of government with Erdogan as the helm. (see Editorial)

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