The power contest
Obviously some degree of “power contest” between the president and the prime minister cannot be avoided if both of them have a political background and strong aspirations to engrave their name on the list of people who contributed most to the advancement of his nation. And if both of those leaders are “popularly elected” and if both are “politicians” jealous of sharing their “earned power” with anyone else, would it be possible for there not to be some sort of power contest between the two?
Wasn’t that what happened when Turgut Özal abandoned his party, became the president and “appointed” Yıldırım Akbulut as both the leader of the then-ruling Motherland Party and as the prime minister? Was it so different than when Süleyman Demirel got himself elevated to the seat of president days after Özal’s death and left his True Path Party (DYP) and government to Tansu Çiller? In both examples of strong politicians becoming presidents, Turkey saw that unlike in that famous Şeyh Bedrettin epic poem from Nazım Hikmet, it was not possible at all “to share everything except the lips of the beloved.”
Probably the bigger and stronger the political greed of the politician, the more jealous of power he might be. Özal fought a fierce battle with Mesut Yılmaz and was close to abandoning the presidency and founding the “New Party” to make a fresh start in politics at the time of his untimely death. Demirel insisted originally that he would not have “three melons” in his arms at the presidency and was “above party politics” as he became the president. But did he manage to stay clear of the changing internal balances in the decaying DYP? In any case, both those two strong parties in Turkish politics waned and eventually disappeared from the political spectrum.
Do President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his handpicked successor as party leader and prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, have a similar power-sharing problem? If they did not, would that be abnormal or not?
Indeed, there is a paradoxical situation in Davutoğlu pressing for a regime change in the country from parliamentary democratic governance to presidential governance. Why would a politician with political ambitions insist on changing the governing system of the country and relegate himself to the position of being a “secretary” of the president while he presently serves as the “chief executive,” at least on paper? On the other hand, unlike Özal and Demirel who were strong but not “absolute bosses” in their respective parties, Erdoğan has always been a very strong leader with an iron grip on the AKP. Thus, even if Davutoğlu might want to drag his feet a bit, as long as Erdoğan remains resolute in becoming the “first president of the Turkey with presidential governance,” there appears to be little that he can do.
It is no secret in Ankara’s political corridors that at the extravagant palace of the president, there is discontent with the level of support Davutoğlu and his government has been giving to the efforts aimed at changing the constitution in the fashion Erdoğan desires. How long can Davutoğlu drag his feet? The only option Davutoğlu might have is to consolidate his relations with former President Abdullah Gül who, indeed, was the person who invited the premier to politics in the first place.
Gül and other “disgruntled” politicians, on the other hand, have been rather reluctant in taking risks. A party was established years in advance of a possible parting of ways with Erdoğan. What happened? Gül could not walk that road when his presidency ended. He was expected to walk that road after the June elections last year, but he decided to wait until after the November elections. When the national will was hijacked by the politics of fear and the AKP returned with a majority, that effort died once again. Nowadays, there appears to be some fresh moves. Gül supporters, including Bülent Arınç and many other former ministers, have reportedly rented offices in the Hamamönü district of Ankara and started preparing for a “D-Day” when the swords will finally be drawn and a battle with Erdoğan is launched.
The cunning Erdoğan has already made his army of advisers write a draft constitution in apparent preparation for an ambush on the AKP and parliament should the main opposition continue preventing the parliamentary commission from writing a new constitution.
The Can Dündar-Erdem Gül decision of the Constitutional Court, which led to the release of the two journalists by a lower court, came as a blow to Erdoğan’s plans amid hopes anew that there might be resistance to Erdoğan’s total obliteration of the principle of the separation of powers. In other words, through a successful domestication program, the lower courts were made subservient to the absolute power, but the people had a chance to remember what the separation of powers was with the Constitutional Court decision.
Obviously, it might be too early to talk of a schism in the AKP, because Erdoğan is still too strong to be publicly and directly opposed by anyone in the AKP. However, there are increased signs that despite all the efforts to present a unified front firmly tied to Erdoğan, there are some growing cracks in the shell of the AKP.