Turkey’s Prime Minister Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu recently resigned from his post after 20 months in office. Although the decision was presented as his own choice, there are rumors that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan forced him to take this decision in order to consolidate his own power. The timing of the decision was interesting since Davutoğlu recently brokered an efficient deal with the European Union about visa-free regime for Turkish citizens in the Schengen area which comprises 22 EU and four non-EU members in exchange to Turkey’s acceptance of the return of the Syrian refugees from Greece to Turkey alongside with increasing financial help from EU to Turkey. Many observers define this process as a “palace coup” or “autogolpe” of Alberto Fujimori.
There might be different reasons for his resignation. The first and the most rational alternative is Erdoğan’s preference of a low-profile Prime Minister who will not overshadow his leadership. Davutoğlu’s recent deal with the EU and proficiency in German and English might have disturbed Erdoğan, a man of ambitions who wants to dominate the political scene in Turkey by himself alone. Second alternative is related to Erdoğan’s will to transform Turkey into a Presidential system. Davutoğlu’s high profile as Prime Minister might have delayed Turkish transition into Presidentialism since Erdoğan has been trying to change the ceremonial Presidential post into a powerful executive position in recent months. So, other than personal competition, Erdoğan’s desire could be based on strategic choice. Third reason might be Davutoğlu’s determined push for a diplomatic solution in Cyprus. Erdoğan comes from radical Islamist National View (Milli Görüş) background, a political movement which was started by Necmettin Erbakan in the late 1960s. Cyprus Peace Operation is largely seen by Erbakan/Erdoğan supporters as an Ottoman-Turkish conquest though the Prime Minister of the period Bülent Ecevit repeatedly underlined that the operation was made in 1974 for saving democracy in Cyprus Republic following a military coup organized by EOKA-B and to bring peace to both Turkish and Greek Cypriots. So, the fear of losing North Cyprus might have directed Islamists within the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to support Erdoğan authoritarianism instead of Davutoğlu’s moderate position. It should not be forgotten that AKP began to move towards far-right in recent months and alienated all liberal leaning right-wing figures from the party including the former President Abdullah Gül, former Economy Minister Ali Babacan, former Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış and now former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
Bekir Bozdağ-Berat Albayrak-Binali Yıldırım
The party congress will be organized on May 22, 2016 and there will be only one candidate that will be chosen by President Erdoğan. Until now, AKP organized many congresses and none of them witnessed a second candidate rising from the ranks of this party having millions of members. This shows the strict discipline and also the lack of intra-party democracy of this party. Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan recently said that they will go to congress with only one leadership candidate. Erdoğan loyalist journalist Abdülkadir Selvi claims that the new Prime Minister will be among the “3B”s; Bekir Bozdağ, Binali Yıldırım and Berat Albayrak. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ and the government spokesman Binali Yıldırım are seen as complete Erdoğan loyalists who will facilitate the systemic change in Turkey. The Energy Minister Berat Albayrak on the other hand is Erdoğan’s son-in-law and a family member. So, all candidates point out a stronger Erdoğan control over the AKP in months to come. However, Erdoğan and AKP will still need the support of an opposition party or more than half popular support in a referendum to change the constitution and to install the Presidential system. Recently, Turkish nationalist MHP’s leader Devlet Bahçeli stated that they could give legal support to government for such transition although they are against it. Here, Bahçeli probably talks about a support within the parliament to find 330 deputies (AKP only has 317 deputies for the moment) in order to organize a referendum about Presidentialism in return to Erdoğan’s complete loyalty to the unitary structure of the state and tougher struggle against Kurdish secessionist PKK by military means.
It seems like AKP with its new leader and Turkey with its new Prime Minister will be dominated by President Erdoğan. Although polls suggest that Turkish people’s support for Presidential system is somewhere between 32 % – 45 %, Mr. Erdoğan will try everything to transform the system. However, since the general elections are identified with the party leaders in Turkey, a low profile leader might also mean losing votes in general elections. Thus, President Erdoğan might even have to work with a Prime Minister from a different political party in the near future. However, of course, he should first realize the transition into Presidentialism which does not seem very easy for the moment.
Assist. Prof. Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ