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Meet Erdogan’s Pro-European Competitor: Abdullah Gul

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has ambitious plans. In addition to his efforts to change the constitution to allow him to extend his time in power, he has shifted Turkey away from the EU and toward the Middle East. Earlier in his term, Erdogan’s policies made him popular at home and influential on the Arab Street, but economic slowdown and the intervention in Syria have led to second thoughts and while Erdogan (despite continued rumors about health problems) remains a commanding figure in Turkey, his profile isn’t quite as high as it was.

Fortunately, for AK party members wondering what comes next, the party already has another prospective candidate: President Abdullah Gul, who is positioning himself as a pro-growth, pro-E.U. alternative to Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman policies. The Financial Times reports:

Mr Gul said that despite difficulties with the negotiations in Brussels, the country’s effort to join the bloc were [sic] the root cause of the political stability and economic growth it has enjoyed over the past decade.

“If you look at the totality of these reforms that have been enacted in the last 10 years they are an adaptation of the EU acquis [the bloc’s accumulated legislation]”, he told the FT. “We should not stop here; it’s not sufficient … We have to strongly carry forward the reforms.”

Currently President Gul’s power is mostly ceremonial. Erdogan may succeed in expanding the powers of the presidency (in anticipation of assuming the title when his term as PM expires), but his election is not guaranteed. Some polls show that Gul would come out ahead of the prime minister in a face-off. And if the constitutional reforms are shot down, President Gul would have the upper hand if he takes over as Prime Minister in 2014-15.

If President Gul is serious about establishing stronger ties with Europe and more openness at home, we wish him the best. It is good to hear a voice of thoughtful moderation in an AK Party that has drifted toward authoritarianism and confrontation under its fiery prime minister. The world has a lot at stake in Turkey; a larger role for President Gul may be widely welcomed.

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