Erdogan warns against split in Turkey ruling party

Fulya Ozerkan
Erdogan warns against split in Turkey ruling party

Ankara (AFP) - Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday warned supporters against allowing any split in Turkey's ruling party, as he prepares to become a strongman president later this month to extend his domination of the country.

In his first keynote speech since he declared victory in Sunday's presidential election, Erdogan rubbished suggestions he would rule as a dictator and vowed to reconcile Turkey's divided society.

"You know, there are some who have been rubbing their hands for 13 years hoping that cracks will emerge" in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) which has ruled Turkey since 2002, Erdogan said.

"For God's sake, do not make happy those who are waiting for the party to wobble. The AK Party has become the hope of the people," he said.

Erdogan won the election with almost 52 percent of the vote, avoiding the need for a second round, and by law now needs to step down as head of the AKP.

Analysts have said that one of the biggest questions after Erdogan becomes president on August 28 will be whether unity is maintained within the AKP as it prepares for 2015 legislative elections.

There has been intense speculation about the future of outgoing president Abdullah Gul, who is seen as a more moderate figure than the combative Erdogan.

Gul is set to now come back into the AKP fold. But the scheduling of an AKP congress to choose its new leader on August 27, the day before he steps down as president, has been seen as a bid to shut him away from any top post before the 2015 polls.

- 'Change the constitution' -

In his speech Thursday to regional party bosses, Erdogan said the AKP had to win a sufficient majority in legislative elections in 2015 to create a new constitution for Turkey.

The AKP wants to create a constitution that would give the presidency US-style executive powers and enshrine Erdogan's position as the number one leader.

"We must hold a majority in the parliament to be able to write a new constitution. We must work with this belief."

Returning to the social reconciliation message of his post-election speech on Sunday, Erdogan vowed that as president he would embrace all citizens in Turkey.

Erdogan branded accusations of one-man rule or being a dictator as a "smear campaign" and said: "As president of (a country of) 77 million, I will do my best to build the social reconciliation that we are longing for."

Erdogan called for a "new opposition which would fit into a new Turkey" ideal adopted by his party, while pledging to take the fight against his ally-turned-number-one-enemy, US-based Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen, to "the next level".

"I will keep on this struggle within laws when I take over the presidency," the premier said.

Erdogan has long accused so-called Gulenists of establishing a "parallel structure within the state" by using its sway in Turkey's police and the judiciary and of concocting a vast corruption scandal in December to unseat his government.

- 'Murderer's knife' -

Erdogan also launched a blistering new assault on social media.

Although many other world leaders are enthusiastic Twitter users, Erdogan has long scorned social media and blasted Twitter as a "troublemaker", especially since anti-government protests last year and a torrent of corruption allegations against his circle.

"I don't speak via social media. I don't like to tweet, schmeet, because you know what they cause in society," he said.

"I compare them to a scalpel in the hand of a surgeon, and a knife in the hand of a murderer."

Ironically, many senior government figures including Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek (@memetsimsek) and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (@Ahmet_Davutoglu) have official Twitter accounts where they post key announcements.

There is an Erdogan Twitter feed with more than 4.5 million followers (@RT_Erdogan) but it is not believed to be an official account.

One world leader who may sympathise with Erdogan is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who once denounced the Internet as "half pornography".