Is Gul no longer in the political equation?

Speculation that President Abdullah Gul is increasingly approaching Russia’s Vladimir Putin-Dmitry Medvedev style of undemocratic governance, in the sense of becoming a puppet political figure, is on the rise, particularly since Gul has preferred not to veto some of the government’s anti-democratic measures.

Gul, despite his democratic credentials, has ignored calls from both international circles and Turkish intellectuals to veto bills on the judiciary and the Internet, which have run against freedom of expression and the rule of law by violating the separation of powers. Hence, he greatly disappointed democratic circles by not vetoing these restrictive legal steps from the government, prompting many Western circles to liken Turkey to a Putin-Medvedev type government.

Medvedev replaced Putin as president of Russia in 2008, and Putin became the prime minister. They swapped roles in 2012.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has increasingly been likened to Putin because of the authoritarian rule that became visible after last summer’s anti-government Gezi Park protests, in which the police used disproportionate force to quell the unrest. Furthermore, in an attempt that is widely interpreted as an attempt to stifle a high-profile corruption and bribery investigation that became public in December of last year, Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) have taken several steps to control the judiciary while introducing strict rules on Internet use to prevent the graft probe from proceeding and to prevent the dissemination of documents about alleged graft. In addition, Erdogan blocked access to Twitter, a ban which was later lifted by the Constitutional Court, and YouTube.

In a recent decision, however, the Constitutional Court annulled amendments made to a law on the 12,000-member Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). The top court found the provisions transferring certain powers from the plenary to the justice minister to be against the Constitution.

Gul’s endorsement of certain anti-democratic government measures, partially annulled by the top court as mentioned above, might have stemmed from political calculations relating to his return to politics if Erdogan prefers to run for the presidential post, which the public will vote on in early August. Due to his endorsement of anti-democratic measures, Gul’s acting as a replacement for Erdogan’s position before the August presidential race has been likened by Western circles to the behavior of Russia’s Medvedev.

The AK Party’s recent local election victory, despite the fact that it has come under fire for massive corruption allegations, has further encouraged Prime Minister Erdogan to advance his dictatorial stance.

Last week he said if he becomes president, he will widen his powers, which has reminded some of the rule of junta-leader-turned-President Kenan Evren after the 1980 military coup.

In contrast with previous remarks that he and Erdogan would get together to talk about the issue of his presidential candidacy as well as the future of the AK Party’s leadership if Erdogan wishes to run for the presidential post, Gul, in a surprise move for many, said late last week that he has no political plans under the current conditions. He did not elaborate on what the current conditions are that have made him change his stance so greatly.

But speculation in the media, most of which is correct, has shown that Gul’s unexpected remarks stemmed from Erdogan’s intention to exert his power over the party even if he becomes president, suggesting a Putin-Medvedev style, undemocratic way of handling state affairs. Thus it has become clear that if there is a political future for Gul within the AK Party, of which he is one of the co-founders, this will only be possible under the terms to be dictated by Erdogan.

But Gul, speaking to the press on April 18, ruled out swapping seats with Prime Minister Erdogan after the presidential elections, saying that Russia’s “Putin-Medvedev” formula is not suitable for democratic regimes, and therefore not suitable for Turkey.

Until recently, Gul had been seen as a potential future prime minister, with Erdogan as head of state.

But the political equation appears to have changed now, with the latest remarks from Gul and Erdogan putting the men at odds over their future plans.

Even if Western circles have been speculating lately that Gul will become Turkey’s Medvedev if he becomes prime minister, in the case of Erdogan running in the presidential elections, his close associates have frequently stressed that Gul will never agree to become Erdogan’s Medvedev.

Thus, the latest developments have the potential to change the political calculations of both Gul and Erdogan. Gul, who is apparently angry about Erdogan’s intention to make him his Medvedev, might run for another five years as president, turning Erdogan’s plans upside down, or both might run for the presidential post.