President-elect and current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s long-held aspirations to appoint a caretaker and low-profile prime minister to form a government loyal to himself before moving to the Çankaya presidential palace in order to keep his patronage over the government and ruling party hit a roadblock on Monday when outgoing President Abdullah Gül signaled his return to politics and the party he helped established in the first place.
Gül’s statement, added with comments from other heavyweights from the party, may upset Erdoğan’s plans for the government and the ruling party before departure for the presidential office. Political analysts suspect Erdoğan wanted to give final shape to the government and the ruling party management by selecting loyalists that will keep an eye on his interests when he is no longer with the government.
Just as he thinks he is now many steps closer to realizing his aspirations, which legal experts describe as unethical and unlawful, Erdoğan may have been blindsided by the party’s heavyweights such as Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, who both said a new prime minister must be selected right after the presidential elections without waiting for the official inauguration day, Aug. 28.
Erdoğan won the Aug. 10 presidential race — albeit very narrowly against his rivals, by securing 51.8 percent of the vote across Turkey. This figure is slightly higher than the absolute majority he needed to win the election.
Now that Erdoğan has secured his place in history by winning the nation’s first direct presidential election, he seems fully focused on the shape of the next government. He called the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) Central Decision and Administration Board (MKYK) on Monday to start deciding on candidates to replace him as prime minister and party leader.
AK Party spokesperson Hüseyin Çelik on Monday announced that the party’s extraordinary congress will convene on Aug. 27 to elect a new leader who will also be tasked to form the government. He dismissed suggestions that Erdoğan is now president, as many claim, and said Gül is president until Erdoğan takes the oath of office on Aug. 28. He also said members of the MKYK will not be changed in the congress, signaling that Erdoğan will keep control of the key board in the party.
President Gül, one of the founders of the AK Party, announced on Monday that he plans to return to “his party” when 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,” he told a group of reporters.
Mehmet Dengir Fırat, one of the founders of the AK Party and a former deputy chairman, said Çelik’s announcement of a party congress on Aug. 27 is a direct response to Gül’s comments. “Gül effectively said do not rush to convene the party’s congress while I’m here.”
Fırat also said Gül may resign earlier to run as a candidate in the party’s congress in order to thwart Erdoğan’s plans to sideline him.
Rumors are that Erdoğan will continue leading the government through a proxy, or in other words, a prime minister who will govern in his shadow. Today’s Zaman has learned from prominent legal experts that Erdoğan has no lawful authority or right to shape the next government or appoint a new prime minister.
Former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Türk, a constitutional law professor, said Erdoğan is now president and the AK Party is ethically his “former party.” “I mean he should not meddle in the selection of the new party leader and other administrators. If he insists in doing the contrary, then he will impose his tutelage on the party. It would be wrong for him both in terms of law, politics and ethics to interfere in the selection of the new prime minister and party leader,” Türk stated.
Erdoğan’s aspirations to govern the new government from a distance are closely linked to his aspirations for the executive presidency he has long coveted for Turkey. But it is an outcome which his opponents fear will herald an increasingly authoritarian rule.
In the coming weeks, Erdoğan will for the last time chair meetings of the ruling AK Party he founded and oversee the selection of a new party leader, likely to be a staunch loyalist and his future prime minister.
This, however, is in open violation of Article 101 of the Constitution, which states that once a person is elected president, his or her ties to their party, and their membership in Parliament, end. Weeks before the presidential election, Erdoğan said if elected president on Aug. 10 he would remain prime minister until Aug. 28, when he will take over the presidency.
According to Serap Yazıcı, a professor of constitutional law, Erdoğan’s aspirations to shape the governing AK Party before moving to the Çankaya presidential palace are neither lawful nor ethical. “He should no longer act like the leader of a political party,” she noted.
Yazıcı said Erdoğan has been elected the new president but he will be officially declared the “winner” when the official data of the Supreme Election Board (YSK) regarding the election results are published in the Official Gazette. “Turkey is a hard country. Discussions of lawfulness over any topic may emerge at any time. The new president should avoid any action that may pave the way for such discussions. Similarly, AK Party officials should do their best to prevent their party from being dragged into such discussions,” Yazıcı added.
Erdoğan has vowed to transform the presidency into a powerful position and exercise the full powers granted to the presidency under current laws, unlike predecessors, who played a mainly ceremonial role. He has said he will activate the post’s rarely used dormant powers — a legacy of the 1980 coup — including the ability to call Parliament and summon and preside over Cabinet meetings.
The current Constitution, written under military rule after a 1980 coup, would enable Erdoğan to chair Cabinet meetings and appoint the prime minister and members of top judicial bodies, including the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).
Furthermore, Erdoğan has made no secret of his plans to change the Constitution and forge an executive presidency.
Felicity Party (SP) leader Mustafa Kamalak, a constitutional law expert, said Erdoğan, now that he has been elected president, is no longer a deputy or prime minister. For this reason, he said, any deed Erdoğan will do, including his involvement in the nomination of the new prime minister and members of the next government, will be unlawful.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Samsun deputy Cemalettin Şimşek believes Erdoğan’s presidency spells “trouble” for Turkey. “He says he will not be solely the president. He says he will also be the prime minister. He wants to meddle in everything. He wants to place the judiciary under his control. He has a tendency to become a dictator even though he is swept to power through elections,” the deputy stated.
Şimşek also said Turkey lost in the Aug. 10 presidential election while Erdoğan emerged as the winner.
There are worries that Erdoğan may grow more authoritarian in Çankaya. He has been battling a high-level corruption investigation involving his close allies and even members of his family since Dec. 17, 2013, when dozens of people, including businessmen close to the government and sons of now-former ministers, were detained on charges of rigging state tenders and other irregularities.
He addressed his critics in a victory speech he delivered on Sunday night. He vowed reconciliation.
“I want to underline that I will be the president of all 77 million people, not only those who voted for me. I will be a president who works for the flag, for the country, for the people,” he said. He also called on members of the faith-based Hizmet movement, which he describes as a “parallel structure,” to question themselves and their position against the government. “I believe that each question they will ask to themselves will help them see the good will in our fight [for a stronger Turkey],” Erdoğan noted.
It will be vital for Erdoğan to have a loyal prime minister. Should his influence over the party wane, Erdoğan could struggle to force through the constitutional changes he wants to create an executive presidency, a reform which requires either a two-thirds majority in Parliament or a popular vote.
“In a few days when the official results are announced, the prime minister’s relationship with the party and Parliament will be over,” Deputy Prime Minister Arınç told reporters in Ankara late on Sunday.
“You will of course ask who will be prime minister and the leader of the party. Starting from tonight, I know that there will be work done on this front,” he said.
Senior AK Party officials say Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who has strong support within the party bureaucracy and has been Erdoğan’s right-hand man internationally, is the top choice to succeed him, although former Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications Minister Binali Yıldırım is also trying to position himself for the job.
Erdoğan’s critics fear a supine prime minister will leave him too powerful, and erode the presidency’s traditional role as a check on the powers of the executive. His backers dismiss such concerns, arguing Turkey needs strong leadership.
Uncertainty surrounds the future of President Gül, who will leave his post for Erdoğan on Aug. 28. There are rumors that Erdoğan does not want Gül, a powerful figure who may seize control of the ruling party, to return to the AK Party. This is why, according to rumors, Erdoğan wants to pick the new prime minister and form the next government before Gül leaves the presidency.
The T24 news portal claimed on Monday that Erdoğan’s plans against Gül have caused unhappiness among AK Party officials who have sympathy for Gül. These officials are planning to force Erdoğan to adjourn his plans for the new prime minister and government until after Aug. 28.
Full story here: