The AKP’s executive board, in a meeting chaired by PM Erdogan, has decided not to extend the term limit for prime minister from three to four terms. This means that Erdogan will not have another term as PM and instead will likely run for president in August. The presidency has in the past been a largely ceremonial post, its incumbent elected by parliament. This will be the first time the president is elected by popular vote. Erdogan attempted unsuccessfully to change the constitution to give the presidency more power, but in his public statements has said that, if he were president, he would wield more power because the position would be an elected one. In other words, in a kind of magical thinking, he believes that the popular vote on its own confers powers beyond the letter of the law regulating the institution. If president, Erdogan would also likely seek a weak PM.
The current president, Abdullah Gul, is holding his cards close to his chest. Popular and respected, and a more conciliatory figure than Erdogan, Gul could run again for president (against Erdogan) or put his hat in for prime minister (not the weak PM Erdogan as president would prefer). Either route puts him at odds with Erdogan’s aspirations. Or he could choose to leave the dirty game of politics to those with sharper claws and less conscience. Many hope, though, that President Gul’s conscience and concern for his country is strong enough to sacrifice a comfortable retirement in order to place himself between the rock of Erdogan’s autocracy and the hard place of democratic reform.