Erdogan closer to Turkish presidency with allies' public backing

By Jonathon Burch

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, accused of authoritarian rule at demonstrations in June, has taken a step towards what he hopes will be a stronger executive presidency after two senior politicians publicly backed him for the post.

With less than a year to the vote, speculation has been mounting over what role Erdogan and Abdullah Gul, who occupies the current largely figurehead presidential post, will play in Turkey's first popular presidential election in 2014.

The two were founding members of the ruling AK Party (AKP) in 2001 and longtime allies. Their relations have appeared at times strained over the last year, not least over a police crackdown on anti-government demonstrations this Summer.

"If our prime minister wants to run, then we will say with no hesitation, 'Our friend Tayyip Erdogan is our candidate', the matter will be finished," Bulent Arinc, a deputy prime minister and another AKP co-founder, told Turkey's Aksiyon magazine.

"If the prime minister wishes this, then it is also natural for it to happen. I don't think Abdullah Gul would feel differently towards such a wish," Arinc said.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for a decade, cannot run again as prime minister in 2015 according to AKP rules, and had been long expected to stand for a newly-created executive presidency, although his plans to establish such an enhanced role have stalled.

Gul, who has emerged as a more popular presidential candidate in opinion polls, is allowed to run for a second term, though he has not publicly expressed any intention to do so.

Huseyin Celik, deputy chairman and spokesman for the AKP, said it was in the country's best interests for Erdogan to become president next year and sought to play down any rift.

"The friendship between our prime minister and our president runs very deep. It is a friendship that has passed many tests. When our prime minister decides to become a candidate, I don't think Mr. Gul will say, 'I'll run too'," Celik told the Kral FM radio station in an interview.

Erdogan's brash and stern nature often stands in contrast to Gul's more moderate and soft-spoken approach, a distinction most noticeable in their stances on Syria and Egypt.

While any open confrontation between Erdogan and Gul is broadly seen as unlikely, differences between the two men have become increasingly apparent.

In perhaps his most open display of irritation last October, Erdogan hit out at what he called "double-headed" government, a thinly-veiled reference to the presidency, after Gul remarked on the police's heavy handling of a banned rally in Ankara.

Gul dismissed the comments, saying "the constitution and laws clearly state our authority, duty and responsibilities".

Differences have also surfaced more recently. Erdogan repeatedly dismissed demonstrators who took part in widespread anti-government protests this summer as "riff-raff", while Gul was more conciliatory and called for dialogue.

What happens at the ballot box next year will also depend on whether Erdogan is able to push through a new constitution, including provisions for an executive presidency, a move seen as less and less likely as the election cycle nears.

Efforts to draft a new charter have all but stalled due to disagreements among the main four political parties, not leastly over the question of a more powerful presidency.

Opponents fear such a position would further consolidate Erdogan's grip without a parliament strong enough to rein him in. The current presidency is largely ceremonial, though the president must approve laws passed by parliament and make important appointments in the judiciary and education. (Editing by Nick Tattersall and Ralph Boulton)

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Bangalore lose nerve, lose game

Bangalore lose nerve, lose game

IPL 7, GAME 11—Vinay's over, Lynn's catch turns last-over finish in KKR's favour. More »

Boycotting IPL will not save cricket

Boycotting IPL will not save cricket

Boycotting the IPL as a means of protest against the grime in the game may not yield the desired results. More »

Jadeja spins out Rajasthan in close chase

Jadeja spins out Rajasthan in close chase

IPL 7, GAME 10—Chennai beat Rajasthan by 7 runs after last-over scare. More »

'Gambhir will strike form soon'

'Gambhir will strike form soon'

Gautam made an eight-ball duck in the opening game against Mumbai and in the second game against Delhi, he lasted only half those balls. More »

Rivals say Srini group delaying BCCI special general meeting

Rivals say Srini group delaying BCCI special general meeting

The group opposed to Srinivasan alleged that since BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel belongs to the president’s group, he was intentionally delaying the SGM… More »

April 24: A legend is born

As Sachin Tendulkar turns 41 - here's a look at some offbeat moments from the Master Blaster's innings. More »

Cleaning up the game starts with fans

Cleaning up the game starts with fans

... because, as recent events reveal, the BCCI has little intention of doing it. More »

SL in 'difficult place' after Farbrace exit

SL in 'difficult place' after Farbrace exit

Sri Lanka depart for assignments in Ireland and England in two weeks, and Sanath Jayasuriya suggested Marvan Atapattu would be interim head coach for those… More »

Chandimal axed as T20 captain

Chandimal axed as T20 captain

Sri Lanka's cricket selectors on Wednesday sacked Dinesh Chandimal as Twenty20 captain and replaced him with Lasith Malinga, while Angelo Mathews was… More »

Vithanage, Priyanjan get T20 call-ups

Vithanage, Priyanjan get T20 call-ups

Herath has been rested, while the team will be without the veteran pair of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, who retired from T20 internationals… More »

'BCCI should have picked panel with care'

'BCCI should have picked panel with care'

Dalmiya said that it was the first time that the BCCI had been faced with a situation where the apex court had hauled up the Board and it should have acted… More »

Farbrace is England's assistant coach

Farbrace is England's assistant coach

The ECB continued the restructuring of the England coaching set-up on Wednesday by announcing the appointment of Paul Farbrace as assistant coach. More »

SC asks Mudgal committee to continue

SC asks Mudgal committee to continue

Mukul Mudgal has communicated to the court his willingness to take up the investigation and has been asked to specify the terms and modalities on April… More »

Sri Lanka players resolve pay dispute

Sri Lanka players resolve pay dispute

The pay dispute between Sri Lanka Cricket and its 13 contracted players ended on Wednesday when the latter agreed to accept 10 percent of the participation… More »

Hope to be fit for next game - Pietersen

Hope to be fit for next game - Pietersen

With two heavy defeats at the hands of Bangalore and Chennai, Daredevils currently languish near the bottom of the table. More »

'SC decision could hurt BCCI's status'

'SC decision could hurt BCCI's status'

The Supreme Court prefers that the Justice Mudgal panel further investigate the IPL corruption scandal. More »

Mudgal panel drops bombshell in court

Mudgal panel drops bombshell in court

The Mukul Mudgal probe committee dropped a bombshell in the Supreme Court on Tuesday by making a sensational claim that it was forced to stop audio recording… More »

Perfect Punjab trounce Hyderabad

Perfect Punjab trounce Hyderabad

IPL7, GAME 9—Maxwell (95, 43b), Balaji (4-13) set up 72-run win. More »

Have the ECB played an unfair game?

Have the ECB played an unfair game?

Money talks, but it is in light of this ICC shakeup that the ECB's act of soliciting of another team's coach deteriorates from free-market aggression to… More »

Farbrace quits for England post

Farbrace quits for England post

He will assist Peter Moores who was unveiled as the new England coach on Saturday. More »

Moin appointed to manage Pakistan team

Moin appointed to manage Pakistan team

Pakistan on Monday reappointed Moin Khan as chief selector and manager of the national team, a week after fellow former captain Rashid Latif turned down… More »

Chennai smash Delhi for first win

Chennai smash Delhi for first win

IPL7, MATCH 8—Raina-led middle order, superlative catching give CSK a 93-run win. More »

'BCCI reputation lowest in 80 years'

'BCCI reputation lowest in 80 years'

The former BCCI president says he was "disillusioned" by the happenings at the emergent working committee meeting on Sunday. More »

Injured Bravo to miss rest of IPL

Injured Bravo to miss rest of IPL

Dwayne Bravo is set to be sidelined for at least four weeks due to a shoulder problem. Bravo sustained the injury when attempting a catch on the boundary… More »