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Behind Davutoglu's Resignation

Relations between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (right) have been strained in recent times.
Relations between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (right) have been strained in recent times.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has announced that he will not run again for the chairmanship of the ruling AKP party in an upcoming extraordinary party congress. This means he will resign as Turkey's prime minister. "I have never asked for a higher position in my own academic and political life and will never do so," he said, intimating that it was more important to maintain ties with "friends and brothers" than to risk those relationships by staying in his post.

In a public speech he made after meeting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Davutoglu said he would not say a "single word" against his "brother and friend" Erdogan, whom he referred to as "our respected president." Nonetheless, he added that his decision not to stand for reelection "was not his choice, but a necessity."

Davutoglu had previously complained that some decisions in Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which he leads, were not coordinated with him.

But the reasons behind Davutoglu’s planned resignation may go much deeper.

Davutoglu became prime minister when the former incumbent, Erdogan, decided to run for the presidency in August 2014. Erdogan won the election but the presidency he took over is still not the institution he has publicly advocated for many years.

Erdogan has never made a secret of his plans to change the Turkish Constitution, which provides for a weak president and a prime minister elected by parliament based on democratic electoral mathematics, i.e. a parliamentary majority or a coalition.

Erdogan wants a "presidential system" controlled by one man, the president, rather than a "parliamentary system" where the president is a rather symbolic figure cutting ribbons.

That, however, would require constitutional change that can be only done in a referendum and with the approval of at least two-thirds of the electorate.

Two years ago, his "yes votes" were strong enough to give him yet another parliamentary majority after 12 consecutive years of victory, but not enough votes to change the constitution.

The public increasingly turned against the kind of presidency they fear Erdogan envisages, which is nothing like the French or American forms of government with strong and independent legislatures and judiciaries, but a one-man presidential system where he, as president, would decide on any law, as well as decisions regarding personnel appointments, banks, foreign policy, courts, and, say, the headlines of daily newspapers and who should moderate which talk show on which popular TV channel.

It is strange and it doesn't in any way prove anything but, for some reason, ever since the AKP decided a few days ago that it would be holding an extraordinary congress on May 22, all news about the prime minister disappeared from the front pages of the newspapers.

Levent Gultekin, a new star and insider in the Turkish media community, claims he knows that the management of the "very loyal" Sabah daily was recently called at midnight and asked to remove a news item featuring Davutoglu. It was a major rebuke for the newspaper, Gultekin said, adding that "we all know what kind of consequences this could have for a newspaper’s business."

Actually, Erdogan has been rehearsing his version of the presidential system for some time. Although not backed by the current constitution, he has tried to intervene in every aspect of the country’s political, economic, social, and media life.

Given Davutoglu's burgeoning reputation outside of Turkey and his recent prominence on the Turkish political scene, as well as his "little efforts" to appoint people from his own circle to both mid-level and higher positions, it may have occurred to his "friend and brother" Erdogan that the prime minister may start to emerge as a challenge to him personally, becoming in Gultekin's words "a second-man alternative" and posing a threat to the constitutional referendum that is planned for the fall of 2016.

Meanwhile, Erdogan and the people still around him are doing whatever they can to sweeten a "yes vote" in the upcoming referendum. This has included promoting the view that removing Turkish nationalist notions and concepts from the current constitution is not possible without a "strong leader" and without making changes to the Anayasa, or the "Mother Law," as the constitution is known in Turkey. This initiative has mobilized nationalists, liberals, and pro-Kurdish groups.

Strangely, one of the two minority parties in the parliament, the nationalist National Movement Party (MHP) has all of a sudden started to split into factions. And suddenly you are also hearing voices saying that Turkey's suppurating "Kurdish issue" will be impossible to solve unless Erdogan’s "super authority" is formalized and made legal.

About This Blog

Turkey Notebook is a blog written by Abbas Djavadi, regional director of programming at RFE/RL and a longtime Turkey specialist. The blog presents Djavadi’s personal take on events and is designed for Turkey-watchers and all who want to get the most relevant news, views, issues, and insights on the country that you might not find in the daily news stream. Also check out Turkey Notebook on Facebook or Twitter.