Davutoğlu’s most important test as PM
A parliamentary commission tasked with the inquiry into corruption claims against four former ministers postponed on Dec. 22 a key vote on whether they should be tried at the Supreme Council. The vote will now take place on Jan. 5, before the commission is set to introduce its report to the Parliament’s General Assembly, most probably on Jan. 9.
This vote has turned out to be an important threshold for the Justice and Development Party (AKP), as there are differing views on whether or not these four former ministers should be sent before the Supreme Council. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the vote was postponed because of a split of opinion within the AKP, as there are a significant number of lawmakers who believe these ministers should be acquitted by the court.
There are reports that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is also of the opinion that they should be tried at the Supreme Court, though not through Parliament’s decision but rather upon their self-determination. According to the daily Cumhuriyet, Davutoğlu held a meeting with Egemen Bağış, Erdoğan Bayraktar, Zafer Çağlayan and Erdoğan Bayraktar on Dec. 22 and asked them to announce their willingness to be sent to the Supreme Council. This claim was not denied as of late afternoon Dec. 26.
While travelling to Macedonia on late Dec. 22, just hours after the postponement of the vote, Davutoğlu told a group of journalists on board, including this columnist, that “We will not tolerate any sort of corruption if it’s within our knowledge and in front of our eyes. This principle does not solely belong to me; it is also valid for our president and it is a principle of the AK Party.”
However, more noteworthy is this part of his statement: “There are some principles in my life that will always exist; one of them is intolerance of [corruption] issues.”
Many believe Davutoğlu’s personal preference is to send these ministers to the Supreme Council and have them be acquitted through justice. However, the Prime Minister and AKP Chairman also sees a great risk in sending them to the Supreme Council, as the trial process will take place on the eve of the parliamentary elections and could be a huge blow to the party.
In the meantime, some senior AKP officials have outlined their positions in regards to sending these ministers to the Supreme Council. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said lawmakers who vote on whether to send their fellows to the court will make their decision through their conscience. He simply wants to say that a local court’s decision to drop corruption claims against to these four ministers should not be seen as valid while voting.
A more open statement came from Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, who stressed the need for these four ministers to be acquitted by the court; otherwise this debate will never end.
But of course the last word belongs to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is against of the idea of sending these four ministers to the Supreme Council, as it will nix all his efforts to depict the Dec. 17 and 25 corruption probes as a coup attempt against his rule. Plus, Erdoğan does not have any trust in the Constitutional Court, which will serve as the Supreme Council for the trial of these ministers. Therefore, he is categorically against any initiative that would create question marks about the cleanliness of his rule.
On the other hand, providing a parliamentary acquittal to those ministers would have a negative effect on public opinion, which would give opposition parties a very strong upper hand. There are already claims that the AKP voting base decreased by four to five points since Davutoğlu has come to the helm as party leader. It would be a huge disappointment for him if he cannot take at least 45 percent of the votes, the percentage Erdoğan’s AKP had in local polls in March.
Given this frame, the vote on Jan. 5 is going to have an important effect on Davutoğlu’s leadership. He will either stick to the internal AKP discipline drawn by Erdoğan, or he will be loyal to his life principles, which he says he will always follow.