Ankara: Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, nominated to be the country’s next president, is a moderate, pro-western figure who has steered Turkey through tough diplomatic turns over the past four years, including the start of accession talks with the European Union.
A close confidant of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the soft-spoken 56-year-old is now set to take the country’s top job in several rounds of presidential voting which starts on 28April, thanks to the comfortable majority his AKP party holds in parliament, which elects the president for a single, seven-year term.
For many, Gul represents the moderate face of the AKP, a party born of a banned Islamist movement which now describes itself as a conservative democratic force committed to the mainly Muslim country’s secular order.
Throughout his political career, Gul has acted as an emissary between his pro-Islamic parties and Turkey’s western allies and has built close ties with the diplomatic community in Ankara.
Despite anti-Western outbursts by some of his colleagues in the past, Gul has maintained a conciliatory stance towards the West and Turkey’s secularist establishment, which is seen as a major factor in his nomination.
One issue that may overshadow his potential presidency is the Islamic-style headscarf worn by his wife Hayrunisa, which secular Turks consider a symbol of political Islam and do not want to see at the presidential palace.
Gul’s climb to the top came after the AKP emerged victorious from the 2002 general elections and he was called in to act as caretaker prime minister, Erdogan at the time being legally barred from heading the government.
After nearly three and a half months in office, he stepped down and was named foreign minister after Erdogan won a by-election in a southeastern province and became prime minister.
Gul’s tenure got off to a turbulent start when he asked parliament to approve the deployment of US soldiers in southeast Turkey for a possible invasion of Iraq.
Parliament rejected the motion, winning the government points in the Middle East, but casting a shadow on ties with Washington.
Gul’s next project was to jumpstart Turkey’s troubled accession talks with the European Union amid a slowdown in reforms triggered by bickering in the previous coalition government.
Ceaseless lobbying by Gul and Erdogan bore fruit as Turkey adopted a slew of ground-breaking reforms to align the country with European norms and began accession talks with the European bloc in October 2005.
His tenure saw him work on turning Turkey into a bridge between the Christian West and the Muslim East, drawing on its close ties with both and on the country’s strategic location between Europe and Asia.
Erbakan loyalists established the Felicity Party, while the “modernists” formed the AKP, disawoved their Islamist heritage and adopted a centre-right, pro-Western agenda with an emphasis on religious freedoms.