Whiff of election rivalry in Erdogan-Gul differences
REUTERS ISTANBUL TURKEY’S President dismissed suggestions by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan that he had exceeded his authority over the handling of a banned protest march, highlighting increasingly open differences between the two.
Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for a decade and overseen unprecedented economic growth, is widely expected to stand for a newly-created powerful executive presidency at elections in 2014. Recent polls, however, present Abdullah Gul as the more popular figure, though he has not expressed any intention to run for the new post.
Erdogan expressed irritation at police failure to prevent thousands of secularists marching in a banned Republic Day rally in Ankara on Monday to protest against what they see as an increasingly repressive and Islamist government. Police eventually fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowd, prompting Erdogan to question who had ordered them to remove barricades blocking the protesters’ path.
“We did not get this country to where it is today with double- headed government and this country will go nowhere in the future with doubleheaded government,” he told a news conference on Tuesday, in a thinly-veiled reference to the presidency.
Gul, a co-founder of the ruling AK Party along with Erdogan in 2001, on Wednesday rejected the idea of a conflict of powers.
“There can be nothing more natural than me as president asking officials that the Republic holiday be celebrated throughout the country in a decent way,” Gul said.
“There is no double-headed (government) in the state ..
Our constitution and laws clearly state our authority, duty and responsibilities,” he told reporters at the presidential palace.Republic Day marks the foundation in 1923 of the modern Turkish secular republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, whose image the protesters carried on their march. Many secularists see Erdogan, whose party was first elected to power in 1992, as a threat to that secular system - an accusation he denies.
The two men have agreed to disagree in the past on issues including freedom of expression, and officials in Ankara say their relationship is built on deep mutual respect. But their differences are becoming increasingly public.
The frictions risk becoming a distracting feature of Turkish political life as the country grapples with challenges including the impact of war in neighbouring Syria, slowing economic growth and a resurgent conflict with Kurdish militants. Gul criticised Erdogan this month over the detention of members of parliament in alleged conspiracy trials, telling the opening of parliament that deputies in such cases should be allowed to work until final verdicts were reached.
“I don’t want to enter into a polemic with our president. It is obvious we don’t share the same view,” Erdogan told reporters at the time.
Gul’s press adviser Ahmet Sever was quoted by newspapers as saying the president, whose calm manner presents him as a more conciliatory figure than the fiery Erdogan, had asked the Ankara governor to show “tolerance” in handling Monday’s protests.
Erdogan, who has dominated the political landscape since his Islamist-rooted AK Party swept to power in 2002, has little patience with challenges to his power. Hundreds of politicians, military, academics and journalists are on trial on charges of plotting against the government.
The prime minister did not criticise Gul over Monday’s protest, instead blaming police “weakness” and saying he did not believe the president would give such an order to allow a banned rally to pass. But he used the incident to again lay out his case for an executive presidency.
“If a presidential system is brought in we will then take these steps much more easily,” Erdogan said. “Then there will not be such a problem, but aside from that, it is clear what everyone does. My duty as a PM is clear and our president’s area of duty is clear,” he said.