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Posted by on Aug 12, 2007 in At TMV | 1 comment

Rift in AK Parti over Gül?

This year, elections were held early in Turkey because the AK Parti wanted to make Abdullah Gül president. Certain secular parties, especially the CHP (founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk), opposed this idea very strongly – they do not want an Islamist to be president, and especially not one whose wife wears a headscarf. As some of you might know, it is forbidden to wear a headscarf in public buildings in Turkey. If, however, Abdullah Gül becomes president, there will – for the first time in the history of the Turkish republic – be a woman living in the palace of the president, who wears a headscarf.

The AKP won the elections in July bigtime. They won over 40% of the votes. For the first time in the history of the Turkish republic, a ruling party increased its support. This had never happened before. Normally, ruling parties are punished. The AK Parti, however, was rewarded. Therefore, one could very well say that it has a precedent to push through certain reforms, to continue negotiations with the EU, and – yes – to make Abdullah Gül president. It now seems that some in the AK Parti share that view, while others understand that the secular parties such as the CHP and the MHP will never accept Abdullah Gül as president.

Obviously, the AK Parti leaders (and spokespeople) deny that there is a rift within the party, but it would make sence if there is debate about it within the party itself. Namely, the party attracted moderates during the last elections, some of whom could even be labeled moderate secularists, instead of moderate Islamists. Although they all belong to the same party, these groups differ on important issues with each other: the differences are – mostly – not gigantic, but they do exist. One of the issues, however, on which the difference could be quite big, is whether or not Gül should become president.

According to rumours, however, the rift is not just between these two different groups, but even between the very leaders of the AK Parti:

AK Party sources deny media reports of a rift between Gül and ErdoÄŸan who, according to claims in Turkish newspapers, seeks another candidate who would be acceptable to the secularist state establishment in order to avoid political tension in the second term of his government…

A series of media reports have claimed that ErdoÄŸan now wants to avoid similar tension, fearing that this could undermine his government’s efforts to continue with reforms despite a landslide win for the AK Party in the general elections. These reports further suggested that ErdoÄŸan is using veiled messages by “third parties” to persuade Gül, his comrade in politics for decades, to withdraw his bid for the presidency. According to reports Gül remains adamant on his bid, saying the July 22 election results were a strong message from the people that he should be the next president.

I will keep an eye on what happens there. Turkey is of the utmost importance, as Pete Abel explained recently at Central Sanity. A stable Turkey is important, but it is also important for the rest of the world, that Islamists do not push through every reform they want to push through. Erdogan changed his political views – he says – but I believe that he did not truly change them: he only ‘changed’ them because doing so was necessary. If he could do whatever he wanted – without having to fear the army – he would try to break with secularism, at least to a degree, and he would allow more religion in politics and public life.

This post has been cross posted at my own blog.