Some are hopeful that a rival to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be emerging in the person of former president Abdullah Gul.
They were encouraged by Gul’s criticism of the government’s controversial “Decree 696,” which critics argue is an open invitation for pro-Erdogan militias to be formed.
The decree aims to protect Erdogan supporters who took to the streets during the failed coup attempt in 2016 and may have committed serious crimes that night. The decree’s wording is vague and can provide protection for criminal acts in the future committed by private individuals in the name of fighting coup plotters or terrorists.
The grotesque nature of this decree has been underscored by many independent legal experts.
Gul also came out on Twitter to argue against its vague wording, saying this would pose problems for Turkey in the future. That was enough for Erdogan and his supporters to lash out at the former president.
Erdogan’s angry reaction to Gul, which amounted to calling him a back-stabber, and the vilification of the former president by Erdogan supporters in the media, shows that Gul touched a raw nerve.
The emergence of a respected rival to Erdogan for the presidential elections in 2019, especially one who is a co-founder of the AKP and a former fellow traveler of Erdogan’s, has been their worst fear for a long time.
Gul is a politician with democratic instincts who has always spoken up for Turkey’s EU membership bid, and all the rights and freedoms this entails. This is why some are hopeful that he will oppose Erdogan in 2019.
That, however, is very unlikely to happen; or if it does, it is unlikely to produce the expected results. Gul may be a genuine democrat by instinct, but he is a speaker and not a doer like Erdogan. He never used his full weight in the past to try and secure the kind of democracy in Turkey that he lauded on so many occasions.
He always tried to avoid a confrontation with Erdogan. This was particularly noticeable when he was president and had the power to do something in the face of undemocratic developments when Erdogan was Prime Minister.
Gul was also offended and angry, but docile, when Erdogan effectively kept him at arm’s length from the AKP, after Gul’s presidential tenure ended in 2014, making sure he could never become its leader and subsequently prime minister.
Decree 696 may be “the last straw” for Gul. Many straws have come and gone, though, over these past five years that should have been the last one for him, but were not.
In other words, it is probably too late for Gul to make a difference at this stage.
Gul also decided to come out of political hibernation at a time when Erdogan is at the peak of his power with his hold over the AKP, the media, and the judiciary, and will, therefore, be difficult to unseat.
Gul is a classic example of a politician who remained inactive when he should have been active, and who decided to come out when it’s too late. If he had stood his ground when he had the power, while true democracy and the freedoms associated with it were under systematic attack, things would probably have been very different today.
But he did not and undermined his political credibility, as he will discover now.