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Erdogan to withdraw from Turkey's party and parliamentary politics

Announcement of withdrawal puts prime minister as front-runner in possible move to the presidency in 2014.

ISTANBUL // Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister who is credited with turning his country into a regional power, says he will withdraw from party and parliamentary politics, which would make him the odds-on favorite for a possible move to the presidency in 2014.

Mr Erdogan will have to give up his role in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), his seat in parliament and the office of prime minister if he becomes president. The presidency, now mostly a ceremonial post, is held by Abdullah Gul, a long-time friend of Mr Erdogan's as well as a former AKP prime minister and foreign minister. Mr Gul has not said whether he wants to run for a second term.

"In line with the promise we have given, we will be a candidate for party chairman for the fourth and last time," Mr Erdogan, 58, told a meeting of his ruling party in Eskisehir on Sunday, according to the text of his speech posted on the AKP website yesterday. The prime minister also renewed a promise that his current term as a member of parliament will be his last.

Mr Erdogan has not said publicly whether he wants to become president, but Huseyin Besli, one of his closest advisers, told a television interviewer last month that "Erdogan will be president in 2014".

The fact that Mr Erdogan has called on a parliamentary committee working on a new constitution to give the president new executive powers is also seen by political observers as an indication that he will seek the position.

The prime minister was not ready to leave the political arena, Mr Besli told the A Haber news channel, using the word "palace" as shorthand for the presidency, according to a summary of the interview posted on the channel's website. "Erdogan wants to move to the palace, and it is necessary that he does," Mr Besli said, without giving details.

Since becoming prime minister in 2003, Mr Erdogan has overseen political and economic changes in Turkey that unleashed an economic boom, reduced the political power of the military, made the country a candidate for EU membership and as well as strengthened Ankara's role in the region.

If re-elected at the party congress on September 30, which is almost certain given his dominating position in the party, Mr Erdogan's term as chairman will end in 2015 at the latest, according to the AKP bylaws. His term as a lawmaker in parliament and prime minister ends in 2015 as well.

"This will carry him through to the presidential elections" due in 2014, Soli Ozel, a political scientist at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, said yesterday about Mr Erdogan's announcement. He said Mr Erdogan was expected to pick a successor as prime minister close to the date of his departure from active party politics.

Mr Ozel said he expected possible successors of Mr Erdogan inside the AKP to jockey for job but did not think an open contest would break out. "Erdogan will point to somebody," he said.

Mr Erdogan said his insistence on term limits as lawmaker and party chief reflected the fact that the AKP was different from parties whose leaders clung to power as long as possible.

"There have been [party] chairmen in this country that were under the illusion that they were the best for every task in every age," he said at the Eskisehir meeting on Sunday.

Mr Besli, the Erdogan adviser, said a Russian-style role reversal that would see Mr Erdogan move to the presidency while Mr Gul would take over the post of prime minister was possible. "I expect no inner-party resistance if Abdullah Gul becomes prime minister," he said, referring to media reports about a swap like the one that saw Russia's president. Vladimir Putin, become prime minister under Dmitry Medvedev and vice versa.

But it is unknown whether Mr Gul is willing to go along with that plan. "The premise of the comparison with Russia is wrong," Mr Ozel said. "Medvedev was a nobody when he became president. Mr Gul was a co-founder of the AKP and a fairly successful foreign minister. He is not a nobody".

tseibert@thenational.ae

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