Turkish President Gul, whose tone has always been conciliatory, has cautioned against the division and polarisation of the Turkish people. He expressed his condolences to the families of six people who died in the demonstrations and emphasised the value of free speech in the media. The president’s comments were viewed by many as a dig at Prime Minister Erdogan who has lashed out at various groups blaming them for the widespread civil unrest which shook the nation this year.
President Gul, who was opening parliament for the last time in his term of office seemed to be referring to a more liberal way of government and looks like having ongoing political ambitions of his own; the presidency is, largely, a ceremonial office. However, he could if he wanted to, stand for presidential election once again. In his closing speech Gul said that he would continue to be of service to the nation.
Gul said “The separation of powers, a free press and an effective opposition are among the indispensable elements of democracy.” The remarks were perhaps related to accusations that Prime Minister Erdogan has become more authoritarian of late and has hindered free speech in the media.
Speaking after months of protests and demonstrations across the nation, when PM Erdogan launched a number of conspiracy theories blaming looters and terrorists for the troubles, Gul said “We cannot view every issue and every debate in terms of “black or white”, “right or wrong”, “justified or unjustified”, “us and them” or “friend or foe”.”
The president said that, like other emerging markets, Turkey has been affected by US monetary policies and needed to attract more direct foreign investment in order to reduce dependence on short term foreign funding, thus refuting PM Erdogan’s accusations of a phantom “interest rate lobby” which conspired to impede Turkey’s economic growth.
Turkey will be facing presidential elections (its first), next year. Gul’s more diplomatic and measured approach throws into sharp relief Erdogan’s more pugnacious stance, Gul saying that the EU was the “centre of gravity” as regards Turkey’s foreign policy.
Erdogan has vowed not to seek re-election as prime minister, however he does have his eyes on the presidency even though he has sought to expand the powers of the next presidency without success, thus far.
President Gul has, however, complimented Erdogan for releasing a political reform package this week, although critics were looking for measures that were more far reaching.