PM says Gul’s return to AK Party ‘natural,’ but no posts until 2015

ANKARA (CIHAN)- President-elect and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoIan said on Tuesday evening that there is no obstacle before the return of President Abdullah Gul to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), but implied that the president should not expect to occupy a significant position within the party until 2015.

“There cannot be anything more natural than Abdullah Gul’s return to his [AK] party. This step [return] would be natural,” ErdoIan told reporters on Tuesday evening as he attended a farewell reception hosted by Gul at the ankaya presidential palace. ErdoIan was elected the new president of Turkey on Sunday. He will move to the palace on Aug. 28 when Gul officially vacates the post of president.

In addition, ErdoIan said the AK Party administration will not change until the next ordinary congress, which is slated for 2015. This led to comments that Gul, even if he returns to the AK Party, will not be given a significant position in the party until 2015. “You know, there shouldn’t be gaps in politics. It would be wrong to have two people [at the helm of the party], one as chairman and one as prime minister,” said ErdoIan, adding that “things will fit into place” in time.

On Monday, Gul signaled his return to politics and the AK Party after he leaves the presidency. “I was one of the founders of the party. I was the first prime minister and president [to be elected from the party]. It is pretty natural [for me] to return to my party,” Gul told a group of reporters.

His remarks led to comments that the president wants to move to the helm of the AK Party when ErdoIan leaves the post.

In an immediate response to Gul’s maneuver, the AK Party announced later on Monday that the AK Party’s extraordinary congress will convene on Aug. 27 to elect a new leader who will also be tasked to form the government. Many said ErdoIan does not want Gul, a powerful figure, to seize control of the party if he returns to the AK Party.

Although formerly very close, Gul and ErdoIan have drifted apart in recent years, with Gul sometimes questioning the AK Party government’s actions.

Gul also delivered a brief speech at Tuesday’s reception. He said he will refer to ErdoIan as the president-elect and added: “During my tenure [as president], I have worked to preserve the peace and security of our country as well as its prestige abroad. I am now at the end of my seven-year duty [as president]. I thank you all for the support you have given me during these seven years.”

According to rumors, ErdoIan is planning to appoint a caretaker and low-profile prime minister to form a government loyal to himself.

Senior AK Party officials say Foreign Minister Ahmet DavutoIlu, who has strong support within the party bureaucracy and has been ErdoIan’s right-hand man internationally, is the top choice to succeed him, although former Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications Minister Binali YIldIrIm is also trying to position himself for the job. In addition, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent ArIn has made no secret of his desire to become the new chairman of the AK Party.

Some news sources quoted Faruk Acar, owner of the polling company Andy-Ar, as saying on Wednesday that a survey the company carried out on AK Party supporters found 76 percent want Gul to become the new prime minister, while only 7 percent favor ArIn. Five percent support Numan KurtulmuI to succeed ErdoIan, while only 1 percent supports DavutoIlu.

ErdoIan’s aspirations to govern the new government through a pliant prime minister are closely linked to his aspirations for the executive presidency he has long coveted for Turkey. But it is an outcome that his opponents fear will herald an increasingly authoritarian rule.

Whoever replaces ErdoIan as prime minister will hold the position until next year, when a general election is due.

Crack grows more evident

Supporters of ErdoIan and Gul are carrying on a battle of words over the future of the AK Party.

On Tuesday, AK Party deputy Iamil Tayyar, a strong supporter of ErdoIan, gave a harsh response to AK Party Deputy Chairman Salih Kapusuz, who had called on Tayyar not to make “unkind statements” about Gul. Tayyar is not happy with Gul’s plans to return to the AK Party. In response, Tayyar accused Kapusuz of “carrying water to the mill of a dirty cooperation.”

Also on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister ArIn made a call on young officials of the AK Party not to make any plans over the future of the ruling party. He described those officials as “newcomers.” “Plans by some newcomers may hurt the years-old fraternity among us. Everyone must take a position to denounce them [newcomers],” ArIn stated.

In a covert response to ArIn on Wednesday, ErdoIan’s chief political aide YalIn AkdoIan, who writes columns for the pro-government Yeni Iafak daily under a pseudonym, said the AK Party has no debt owed to anyone, implying Gul, and that ErdoIan is the leader of the AK Party forever. He also said the new AK Party chairman should work to maintain the existing harmony between the prime minister and the president.

In addition, some Twitter trolls purported to be supporters of the AK Party continue to intensify their attacks against outgoing President Gul. One of the trolls said the AK Party is against anyone, including the president, who works to harm the “leader” of the party. The leader clearly stands for ErdoIan. Another troll said the AK Party does not say Gul cannot return to the party. But, he added, the party says Gul cannot become the new prime minister of Turkey.