TIME TIME 100

Turkey Reaction To Gul on TIME 100 Notes Absence of Erdogan

Turkey's controversial Prime Minister is more used to the spotlight than his ally and rival, President Abdullah Gul

First reactions in Turkey to the inclusion of President Abdullah Gul on the 2014 TIME 100 list of the world’s most influential people took note of the absence of Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s most powerful political figure, from the list. “TIME 100: Gul is there, Erdogan Isn’t,” read the headline on the Hurriyet news site. Said the daily Vatan: “Flash! Gul is on the list, Erdogan doesn’t exist!”

Twitter – the social media site that Erdogan ordered shut down in Turkey after it posted links to apparently incriminating corruption wiretaps — echoed with skepticism of the choice: “JOKE OF THE DAY: Turkish President Gul in Time’s “The most influential people in the world” list..:) :)@TIME > Influential for what??” wrote @GayeAkarca

“Is he even influential in Turkey? Discuss,” quipped Bloomberg’s Turkey bureau chief, Benjamin Harvey @benjaminharvey.

In a mainstream media largely intimidated by Erdogan’s heavyhanded attentions, most early reports cited what novelist Elif Shafak had written on Gul without further comment. Gul has tacked his own course through the controversies that have erupted around Erdogan over the past year. The two men were among the founders of the moderately Islamist Justice and Development Party that has dominated Turkish politics for almost a dozen years, but Erdogan has strongly signaled his interest in running for the president’s office that Gul now holds.

For his part, Gul has largely refrained from being drawn on the subject, except to signal his reluctance to leave the office in order to take Erdogan’s place as prime minister.

TIME Abdullah Gul

Turkey’s Gul Rules Out Putin-Style Job Swap With Erdogan

Abdullah Gul - Uhuru Kenyatta meeting
Turkish President Abdullah Gul speaks during a press conference in Ankara, April 8, 2014. Aykut Unlupinar—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The future of Turkish President Abdullah Gul is linked to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has made clear his interest in running for the presidency when the post opens in August. But Gul appeared to cast the idea of a Putin-style job swap

Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul deepened a mystery surrounding the future of the country’s political leadership on Friday, apparently closing off one much-discussed scenario involving a job swap with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but in terms so murky and conditional that it only served to fan speculation about his intentions.

Both Gul and Erdogan belong to the Justice and Development party that has ruled Turkey since 2003. The latter is serving his third term as premier and is barred by internal party rules from seeking a fourth. But he has made clear his interest in running for the presidency when the post opens in August, sparking speculation that he could swap jobs with Gul, who co-founded the party him.

A similar dilemma presented itself to Vladimir Putin in 2008 in Russia, where the constitution barred him from a third consecutive term as president. Putin instead backed his former campaign manager, Dmitry Medvedev, for the job, and when Medvedev won, he appointed Putin prime minister. Putin returned the favor four years later, when he won the presidency again. But on Friday, Gul appeared to cast the idea of a taking part in similar swap.

“I believe that the Putin-Medvedev formula wouldn’t be a completely suitable model in Turkey,” he told reporters.

In nearly the same breath, however, Gul added, “I don’t have any political plan for the future under today’s circumstances.”

The cryptic remark had analysts scrambling to decipher Gul’s intentions. Some spun the remark as a surprise declaration of retirement from public life, “signaling an earlier-than-expected departure from politics when his term ends in August,” as Turkey’s Cihan news agency put it.

Most others focused on “under today’s circumstances,” hearing in the conditionality of the phrase the grinding of gears turning behind the scenes. “The first impression is that Gul wants to be candidate for the presidency again, but I don’t think that it’s possible without an agreement with Erdogan, because Gul always says he’ll speak to Erdogan about this issue,” the Hurriyet Daily News quoted columnist Yalçın Doğan as saying.

Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, agreed. “The Putin-Medvedev inversion is just not possible in Turkey,” he tells TIME. “Gul is not Medvedev right? He’s got his own base. Gul will not be No. 1 but act like he’s No. 2. If Erdogan wants to become president, which he does, he’ll have to appoint a caretaker prime minister, someone he can influence a great deal.”

In Gul’s apparent rejection of a Putin-style job swap, others heard the sound of the President opening the door for Erdogan to remain as prime minister. Indeed, in a meeting last week, Justice and Development lawmakers reportedly were polled both on their views about who should be president and on the three-term limit.

“This might be a signal that they have already decided to stay with the status quo,” Ali Carkoglu, a political scientist at Koc University in Istanbul, tells TIME. Carkoglu discounts rumors that Gul would split the party, either by running against Erdogan for president or challenging him for leadership of a party they founded together.

“If they are divided, then I think they will both lose,” Carkoglu added. “They have all the incentives to work together. And I think they have a camaraderie so far. They’ve been in this sort of risky politics for 25-30 years. We are underestimating the tradition from which they come.”

Cagaptay concurs. “I think their relationship is marked more by collegial competition than by rivalry.”

But other questions loom, including what powers each office will hold. Unlike Russia (or the United States), the presidency is largely a ceremonial post; most political power rests with the parliament, with the prime minister typically chosen from the ranks of the largest party. But Turkey is drafting a new constitution, which Erdogan has said should embrace a presidential system, with a strong executive. “I think the order will probably be that he becomes president and then change the constitution, not the other way around,” says Cagaptay.

There’s also the matter of corruption allegations leveled against Erdogan and other party leaders. Erdogan has worked hard to thwart a judicial probe, dismissing hundreds of police officers and prosecutors, and even banning Twitter and YouTube after the social media sites linked to allegedly incriminating leaks. He took a victory in local elections held last month as a referendum on his leadership, but as long as he remains prime minister he enjoys immunity from prosecution as a member of parliament. Were he to become president, he could be vulnerable to courts that, for instance, have declined to enforce the Twitter ban.

Carkoglu says that, as president, Erdogan would have immunity for anything he does while he holds the post. But, he adds, “for anything he’s done prior to coming into office, there’s uncertainty. We’re not sure. So that would be a legal battle. Is it worth taking all those risks?”

TIME Turkey

Turkey’s Erdogan Turns Off Twitter, Turns Up the Nationalism

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a news briefing in a ceremony for signing agreements between Iranian and Turkish officials in Tehran on Jan. 29, 2014.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a news briefing in a ceremony for signing agreements between Iranian and Turkish officials in Tehran on Jan. 29, 2014. Ebrahim Noroozi—AP

The country's powerful prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is raging against social media and dismissing critics as corruption allegations swirl. Incriminating audio recordings surfaced on the social network in February

Until Friday, Turkish President Abdullah Gul had not posted anything on his Twitter account for a solid month. But he got busy after the country’s Prime Minister took the extraordinary step of banning the site inside Turkey.

“I hope this ban will not last long,” Gul wrote. “If there is a violation of privacy on Twitter, only the related pages should be blocked. The platform is impossible to block altogether. Such a ban is also unacceptable.”

Though not nearly as pithy as Erdogan—“Twitter, mwitter!” the Prime Minister declared at the Thursday campaign rally where he announced the ban—Gul’s prompt use of a banned site said almost as much as the great torrent of outrage unleashed worldwide by Erdogan’s audacious move. Gul, after all, is the official who, while expressing reservations, signed the legislation allowing state organs to ban the internet – a move that cost him 80,000 followers at @cbabdullahgul. Widely seen as the alternative to Erdogan in the ruling Justice and Development Party, known in Turkey as AKP, Gul has tried to navigate a course within the parameters of party loyalty but still wide of the premier’s authoritarian streak.

But it may no longer be possible now that Erdogan has become Turkey’s honeybadger.

“I don’t care at all,” he said Thursday. And he may not. Earlier this week, the national election board ruled that his party’s newest ad violated Turkish law by using the national flag to solicit votes. In fact, the flag is the whole point of the ad, which features Turks clamoring to restore a massive standard cut loose by a mysterious man in a trenchcoat (the shadow of its slow descent casting kitchens and workplaces into darkness). The ban found Erdogan nonplussed. “We will ban the ban,” he declared.

Erdogan has also vowed to ban Facebook and YouTube. (“Out of the question,” Gul replied March 7.) The Prime Minister’s particular loathing for social media began last summer, when protests broke out in Istanbul over a park, and swelled into a rebellion against his autocratic tendencies. “There is now a scourge called Twitter,” Erdogan announced June 2. “This thing called social media is currently the worst menace to society.”

It’s certainly a menace to his career. Twitter is where links to audio recordings of alleged wiretaps showed up in February, apparently capturing Erdogan instructing his son to move millions in cash out of his house after hearing investigators were raiding the homes of other politicians.

The apparently devastating tapes surfaced online only after prosecutors and police involved in the investigation were fired by Erdogan’s government. The premier dismissed the most damaging as a “montage,” yet confirmed the authenticity of others. In one he is heard instructing the obsequious head of a Turkish news channel to cut short an interview with a political opponent. Erdogan also affirmed as authentic a tape telling a justice minister to keep an eye on the criminal case repeatedly brought against a media magnate Erdogan regarded as hostile.

Such is the state’s power over much of Turkey’s mainstream media, which infamously failed to cover the Istanbul protests that international news channels covered live. But the Internet is not so easily contained. As a messenger, it’s pretty much impossible to kill. Which may be why Erdogan is also wrapping himself in the flag. Polls consistently measure Turkey as just about the most nationalist country in the world.

Erdogan is circling the wagons or, rather, mustering his horde: Consider the Central Asian song that Erdogan has appropriated as his campaign theme, a martial chant from the steppes for a leader surrounded by enemies, but fiercely fighting back.

“The international community can say this, can say that,” Erdogan said as he announced the Twitter ban. “I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is.”

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