Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Gul Again

It seems Gul is to be the sole AKP candidate for President - and hence the next President of the Republic of Turkey. A week ago this had not seemed the most likely outcome. In the first abortive round the story is that Gul had not been the initial candidate suggested by Erdogan. Erdogan had agreed on two compromise candidates acceptable to the military and other secularist forces. However, Bulent Arinc, the speaker of parliament and a prominent member of the conservative wing of the party had balked suggesting that if Erdogan himself was not going to stand for the presidency the party should nominate either Gul or himself. In the event Gul was nominated leading in the end to the new elections. For these elections Erdogan had brought about a significant reorientation of the AKP parliamentary cadre and a number of moderate women and other mildly left of center politicians were elected on the AKP list. It was assumed that this meant a weakening of the conservatives within the party and because of that the nominee of the AKP for president would be a compromise candidate. Erdogan himself seemed to give support to this view suggesting that the AKP was looking for compromise. Then he backed off and suggested that the AKP would put forward multiple candidates who would campaign for votes from the opposition. In the end it seems the conservatives would not settle for anything but total victory and today the party executive committee with the support of Erdogan nominated Gul as the sole nominee of the party. Given the current numbers in Parliament, and an earlier promise by the nationalist MHP not to boycott the presidential election, this means that Gul will be the 11th president of Turkey.

I don't know how well Gul will do as president but all in all I don't think this was a good result. Firstly, with the same party controlling both Parliament and the Presidency the election of a partisan reduces checks on the government. And we have all seen in the last six years how well that works. Second, it means that AKP is still an ideological party, or at least the ideological forces are the dominant force within the party, which is a dangerous sign for a party that so thoroughly dominates the political scene. Finally, while Erdogan made no explicit commitments he certainly dropped enough hints both before and after the elections that he would be looking for compromise. Now, that he has in some sense gone back on his words, he loses some of his stature and his ability to work with the opposition suffers. Turkey faces some tough times ahead - not the least because of Iraq - and she will need the different forces within the parliament to pull together.

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