ANKARA: Rumors are rife in Turkey that former President Abdullah Gul could emerge as a possible contender against his once close political ally President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the June elections.
Gul, who along with Erdogan was among the founders of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2001, has met with opposition leaders amid speculation he could run as a presidential candidate for the main opposition alliance.
Erdogan called the snap election, which will select the president and Parliament members, last week, catching opposition parties off guard.
Gul and Erdogan have mostly followed the same political paths and a religiously conservative ideology.
However, Gul, who served as Turkey’s president from 2007 to 2014, has increasingly criticized Erdogan’s handling of the aftermath of an attempted coup in 2016.
A split between the two men recently erupted when Gul criticized the controversial state of emergency decree law that exempted civilians who fought against the coup attempt in 2016 from criminal liability.
He also openly slammed the repeated extension of the state of emergency in Turkey, which has been in place since the coup, and called for normalization in the country.
With his conciliatory approach to politics and leadership in the rapprochement process with Armenia and the Kurds in Turkey, Gul was widely respected by the international community as president.
Asked about speculation on Gul’s candidacy, Erdogan said on Tuesday: “I don’t have a problem with that.”
“Alliances with the sole motivation of hostility toward Erdogan are being formed,” he added.
If nominated by the opposition camp, Gul is expected to announce a manifesto that promises a return to the parliamentary system by abolishing the executive presidential changes to the constitution approved by a controversial referendum last year.
He is also said to be announcing a new constitutional draft and suggesting an alternative council of ministers focused on improving the Turkish economy.
The deadline to submit applications for the presidential candidacy is May 4.
Gul held talks with the leader of the Islamist Felicity Party (SP), Temel Karamollaoglu, on Wednesday and met former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara a day earlier, according to Turkey’s pro-government daily Haber Turk.
Other opposition figures are also meeting to discuss alliances for the election on June 24. Karamollaoglu met Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Meral Aksener, who heads the right-wing nationalist Good Party (Iyi Parti).
Kilicdaroglu has described the upcoming elections as an opportunity to salvage the country from what the opposition claims is Erdogan’s increasingly draconian rule.
“Abdullah Gul’s name is not on the CHP agenda,” said Ozgur Ozel, parliamentary group leader of CHP. But the SP still insists on his candidacy.
According to experts, for the other candidates to surpass Erdogan they will need the votes of all the other opposition parties and some of the AKP constituencies.
Polls show that Erdogan, who has dominated the top rungs of power in the country for more than 15 years, enjoys about 50 percent of voter support.
“This means that a candidate would need to appeal to Turkish nationalists, Kurdish nationalists, Islamists and secularists in order to get more votes than Erdogan who has a much more solid base,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told Arab News.
Gul appears to be the best alternative in this regard, experts said.
However, the decision by the newly founded Iyi Party on whether they would join other opposition parties to nominate Gul as the opposition block candidate would be critical.
If Erdogan does not win the presidency in the first round of voting — by securing at least 50 percent plus one vote — then a second round will be held within two weeks.
If the race is between more than two candidates, Erdogan would win the presidency again, said Dr. Emre Erdogan, co-founder of an Istanbul-based research company, Infakto Research Workshop.
“Hence, the calculus of Gul’s move is simple: Exchanging mid-to-long-term uncertain gains, with certain short-term victories, namely being the next president of Turkey,” he told Arab News.
Nominating conservative Gul will cost the CHP some ultra-secular votes, but considering the discipline of its voters, the price will be minuscule and easily compensated by Kurdish voters who favor Gul, Dr. Emre Erdogan said.
“Among all alternative scenarios, only the nomination of Gul seems to be the one with the highest potential to influence the outcome,” he said.