Former Turkish spy chief withdraws from election amid Erdogan dissent

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 09, 2015 12:29 PM

By Gulsen Solaker

ANKARA (Reuters) - The former head of Turkey's intelligence service said on Monday he had abandoned plans to run for parliament in a June election, an apparent victory for President Tayyip Erdogan who had opposed his candidacy.

Hakan Fidan's announcement a month ago that he planned to be a candidate for the ruling AK Party triggered an apparent rift at the top of the party.

Erdogan, required by the constitution to remain above party politics as head of state, said he did "not view Fidan's candidacy positively", but acknowledged it was a matter for Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Fidan, seen by some as a possible future foreign minister, gave no reason for the withdrawal of his candidacy.

"On the path of service to my nation and my people, I will always try to properly fulfill the duties entrusted to me," he said in a brief statement.

A source in Davutoglu's office said the prime minister had discussed Fidan's withdrawal with Erdogan and had approved it.

Erdogan, elected president last August after serving more than a decade as prime minister, has made little secret of his determination to keep a firm grip on politics.

On Monday he chaired his second cabinet meeting since becoming head of state, breaking with a tradition which saw previous incumbents perform a largely ceremonial role.

SIGNS OF STRAIN

Erdogan wants the AK Party to secure a stronger majority in June in order to help push constitutional changes through parliament and forge a full-fledged presidential system in Turkey, where currently the prime minister holds more power.

Fidan was one of Erdogan's closest confidants as head of intelligence, a role to which two columnists said on Monday he was now expected to return.

Had Fidan entered parliament and the cabinet under Davutoglu, he would have been seen as a powerful ally to the prime minister and a potential counterweight to Erdogan's grip.

Although they have maintained a united facade, strains have started to show between Erdogan and Davutoglu.

Davutoglu was in New York last week trying to reassure investors after Erdogan's strident criticism of the central bank unnerved markets.

Erdogan's comment on Friday that he would be happy to see former president Abdullah Gul back in the AK Party also pointed to apparent tensions.

"Erdogan is trying to find ways to enforce his power over the party he established in order to secure support for his strong presidential model," wrote Hurriyet Daily News editor Murat Yetkin.

"But those moves could put further strain on the ruling party."

(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Istanbul, Jonny Hogg in Ankara; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Ralph Boulton)