Outnumbered by riot police, they were soon sent scurrying into
side streets by tear gas and water cannon.
Their scant numbers were an illustration of Erdogan's tightening
grip on power despite a year punctuated by street protests,
international criticism of his response and allegations of
Erdogan, an aide told Turkish television the same day, would remain
in power until 2023, having won a presidential election that will be
held in August. Changes to the constitution would bestow greater
powers on the presidency, the aide predicted.
Interviews with those close to him reveal more detail about the
shape of a future Erdogan presidency.
A "council of wise men" - made up partly of close allies in his
current cabinet - would help oversee top government business, senior
officials told Reuters, effectively relegating some ministries to
technical and bureaucratic roles.
"They will work with Erdogan on important subjects in the
presidential palace. You could call them wise men, an advisory
council, a shadow cabinet," one senior figure in the ruling AK Party
said, with energy policy, the Kurdish peace process and elements of
foreign policy likely to be among them.
"The presidency's weight will be felt more in decisions."
Erdogan has yet to announce his candidacy in the August vote but has
made no secret of his ambition to run. Those around him say the
decision is made.
The results of municipal polls on March 30, when the AK Party won 43
percent of the national vote, suggest a majority in the first round
could be within his reach, especially if he secures the support of
the Kurdish minority.
"There is no longer a question mark," a senior official from
Erdogan's AK Party told Reuters. "Barring an extraordinary
situation, Erdogan will announce his candidacy and we expect him to
win in the first round."
PLIANT PRIME MINISTER
Erdogan may not yet have engineered the full presidential system he
wants for Turkey, but he has made clear that the direct nature of
August's vote - previous presidents were appointed by parliament -
will enable him to exercise stronger powers than incumbent President
Gul's role has been largely ceremonial. Under the current
constitution, presidents have the authority to appoint the prime
minister, convene and chair cabinet meetings, and head the national
security council and the state supervisory council, which audits
"There are many dormant powers that a President Erdogan could use,"
said Jonathan Friedman, Turkey analyst at London-based global risk
consultancy Control Risks.
"Policy in the AK Party has long been made by Erdogan and a small
coterie of advisers ... This will continue from (the presidency) –
and is why having a pliant successor as prime minister to coordinate
MPs and pass laws is key."
Erdogan is barred from standing for a fourth term as prime minister
by AK Party rules, which stipulate members of parliament who have
served three terms must subsequently be out of office for one.
The regulation, which Erdogan has made clear he is opposed to
changing, will also exclude 73 MPs from candidacy in the 2015
parliamentary election, pointing to a significant cabinet reshuffle
and major overhaul of the AK Party ranks.
[to top of second column]
Senior party officials said Erdogan was keen to select a prime
minister and new head of the AK Party who would be unencumbered by
the three-term limit and able to hold the post for two terms, with
current Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Deputy Prime Minister
Emrullah Isler among the favorites.
Another long-mooted possibility - that Gul would succeed Erdogan as
prime minister - now appears unlikely after Gul in April appeared to
rule out such a move, saying it would not be "appropriate" for
Some senior deputies facing a term outside parliamentary office were
likely to be among Erdogan's "council of wise men", including
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz and
deputy Prime Ministers Bulent Arinc and Besir Atalay.
"Ultimately it is Erdogan who will have the final word in all
decisions like this," a senior party official said.
Residents in some areas hung out of windows banging pots and pans -
a traditional sign of protest - as demonstrators chanting for
Erdogan to resign were chased by riot police on Saturday, but much
of the energy has gone from a protest movement which, a year ago,
sustained week after week of street demonstrations.
Erdogan has variously dismissed the protesters as vandals,
terrorists and anarchists and his party's strong showing in the
March polls has reinforced the sense that his rise, despite
polarizing the country ever further, is unstoppable.
His rhetoric plays on a schism in Turkish society between a
western-facing, largely secular segment of the population suspicious
of his conservative Islamic ideals and a pious, working-class mass
who see him as a hero for returning religious values to public life
and driving a decade of growth.
It is a strategy, his opponents say, which sees him deliberately
appeal to only the half of the population while ignoring the rest.
Yet even Erdogan's critics acknowledge that he has overseen Turkey's
transformation from a financial backwater into one of the world's
most dynamic economies, a record which means that a narrow majority
of voters - as well as investors - have kept giving him the benefit
of the doubt.
"One of the greatest fears is that the government will make populist
policies, which will grossly affect growth, but they haven't done
that yet," said an Ankara-based diplomat, asking not to be
identified so as to speak more freely.
"Erdogan is a smart man, he can turn the bleakest situations to his
advantage. He is only focused on the 50 percent. His only point of
reference is to stay in power," he said.
"He's as pragmatic as you can get."
(Additional reporting by Jonny Hogg in Ankara and Ayla Jean Yackley
in Istanbul; Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Janet McBride)
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