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Opposition Candidate Slams Turkish Military Chief Over Political Role

Presidential candidate of main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) offered a swift rebuke to Turkish military chief Gen. Hulusi Akar over his mediation role between current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his predecessor Abdullah Gul over the latter’s now-dropped intention to run in the presidential election.

“Take off your epaulets and stand against us,” Muharram Ince, the CHP presidential candidate, said in indignation when he criticized the general.  Akar’s visit on a helicopter to former President Gul late last month to persuade him to withdraw his candidacy against Erdogan generated political controversy. After initial denials, the existence of meeting was confirmed by Gul himself, and details of what was discussed filtered through media outlets in the subsequent weeks.

“What does a chief of staff do with Abdullah Gul? I only work with Hulusi Akar for a short period of time. It is impossible to work with people with this kind of mindset for a long time,” Ince told in a televised interview this week.

His remarks landed the military chief at the heart of political debate in the country. For Ince, the meeting was an unusual step for a military chief who is expected to keep the army out of the political fray.

Gen. Akar has already aroused grousing over his close association and rapport with President Erdogan.

When last month the story of Akar’s visit, along with presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin,  to Gul broke out in Haberturk newspaper, the reporter was dismissed and the report was removed from the daily’s website. But President Gul later acknowledged the visit.

“There was such a visit, it was during the day. It was not a secret, concealed one,” the former president said. He felt the need to emphasize that there was no threat to him. The meeting, he noted, took place in a civilized manner. Still, an army chief’s role to steer such a high-stakes meeting was unprecedented in recent memory.

CHP Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu even claimed that Akar’s visit played a role in deterring Gul from running in the elections.

“This was an attempt for establishing military tutelage in a different form,” the CHP leader said earlier this month.

After President Erdogan declared snap elections for this June, the Turkish media was awash with speculation and expectation over Gul’s possible return to politics with running in the presidential contest. Islamist Felicity Party leader Temel Karamollaoglu was considering to propose Gul as his party’s presidential candidate. But such plans went nowhere.

The former president insisted on being announced as the joint candidate of all opposition parties to run against Erdogan. In a press conference, he highlighted the lack of consensus among the opposition for his rejection of running in the election.

But according to CHP, Gul was threatened by the army chief during that meeting.

Two weeks after that, a pro-Erdogan journalist, Okan Muderrisoglu, wrote in the Sabah daily about internal deliberations of the meeting. According to Muderrisoglu, the military chief warned Gul over widening schism between him and Erdogan, and talked about its fallout for the state of affairs.

To the sources, the military chief underscored the importance of the new executive presidency and its positive contribution to the governing of the country at this delicate moment.

The journalist noted that the army chief politely underlined the need for direct dialogue between Erdogan and Gul.

The entire saga casts a doubt on the army chief amid an ongoing crackdown on political opponents of President Erdogan. The post-coup purge has left a fractured army with more than half of its generals in prison. The political penetration into technical and professional affairs of the military created ensuing concerns over the future of NATO’s second largest army. 

The purge’s monumental impact is particularly felt in the air force where more than half of its pilots have either been sacked or imprisoned.

The failed coup in 2016 proved to be an epoch-making moment for Turkey’s politics as well as the Turkish military. And many people see Akar as equally responsible for failing to prevent the putsch and stop the post-coup purge, which wrought a havoc in one of the Republic’s once most respected and stable institutions.

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