Commentary, Politics

Abdullah Gul’s miscalculation

Gul is making the wrong choice for his political career if he dares to be the joint candidate of the opposition bloc as the news reports suggest.
3 min read

Turkey’s opposition parties are finding it difficult to launch a joint presidential campaign. Despite the hard work of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Felicity Party (SP), Abdullah Gul is less and less likely to emerge as the opposition’s joint candidate. Meral Aksener’s unwillingness to backtrack on her presidential bid and objections from within the CHP left Gul just no choice. He will either accept the SP’s nomination or run as an independent. To be clear, he has time until May 5 to decide.

No matter what happens over the next days, however, it is no secret that Gül miscalculated his political prospects. His initial goal was to emerge as a “new hope” by bringing together the opposition and a certain faction within the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). His supporters hoped all social groups would conclude that Turkey desperately needed Gul’s leadership. Needless to say, things did not go as expected. Instead, there seems to be a divide between the former president and the AK Party – the political party he co-founded.

In recent days, efforts by the opposition parties to jointly endorse Gul’s presidential bid took an unexpected turn. Instead of fielding Gul as their joint candidate, opposition leaders want to lure away conservative voters, including the Kurds, from the AK Party to deny President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a first-round victory.

Obviously, Gul repeatedly miscalculated his relationship with Erdogan’s AK Party. Since 2013, the former president distanced himself from the party against the backdrop of the Gezi Park protests, the fight against Gulenist Terror Group (FETO) terrorism, and growing tensions with the West and the Gulf. He has been notably critical of Erdogan’s response to the turbulence fueled by international players. Finally, Gul took the ultimate step by letting the conversation on his potential presidential bid drag on.

One might argue that Gul has not actually decided to run. It was Prime Minister Binali Yildirim who explained how little the difference was between “thinking about running” and “actually running”: “It was an engineering project, and it failed.” It is a common misconception that Gul was left with two options when the People’s Alliance rallied behind President Erdogan: To run against the incumbent, or not. But letting the opposition parties talk about his candidacy at length was a decision that changed the course of his political career. The side effects of that choice can be observed within the AK Party and the opposition alike. At this point, Gul’s only way out is to come out in favor of Erdogan’s candidacy.

It is no surprise that the opposition desperately wants to deny President Erdogan a first-round victory in the upcoming election. This is why Gul’s name came up in the first place. In the second round, they hope, voters will side with Erdogan’s opponent to remove the incumbent from power. To be clear, this is exactly why Aksener refuses to suspend her (prospective) campaign. The underlying assumption here is that anti-Erdoganism could unite opposition movements across the spectrum in the second round of the presidential election. Whoever ends up competing against Erdogan, opposition leaders expect, will secure enough votes. Ironically, the opposition already tried this approach to no avail, as the 2014 presidential election ended with a first-round victory for Erdogan.

On April 16, 2017, Turkish voters overwhelmingly supported the adoption of a new system of government. In June 2018, the country’s next president will be elected under those new rules. The idea that the opposition could beat Erdogan in the second round, regardless of the runner-up’s identity, is misleading. Muharrem Ince, a CHP parliamentarian who hopes to run for president, made this point very clearly: “If I had to choose between the two candidates, I would vote for Erdogan.” Perhaps his statement was an attempt at manipulation. There is a good chance that İnce would make some extremely harsh statements about the incumbent if he ends up running for office. But his remarks suggest that CHP voters could consider voting for the incumbent in the second round. Same goes for members of other opposition parties.

Source: Daily Sabah

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Burhanettin Duran received his B.A. in Political Science and International Relations from Bogazici University in 1993 and obtained his Ph.D in Political Science from Bilkent University in 2001. Currently, Dr. Duran is a Professor at Ibn Haldun University and the General Coordinator of SETA Foundation.