A ‘low profile’ Turkish prime minister?

A ‘low profile’ Turkish prime minister?

Turkish political literature has introduced a new phrase, “low profile prime minister,” since Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced he was leaving his post and the chairmanship of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) in a snap congress on May 22.

So far Turkish prime ministers have been proud of having a high profile, trying to show how farsighted, well-educated, firm and sharp they are. In his last press conference on May 5, when he announced he was leaving, Davutoğlu spoke about how successful his performance was during the term he served as prime minister of the country, after his predecessor, Tayyip Erdoğan, was elected president in August 2014.

Now the opposite is preferable, according to the comments in AK Parti circles. The reason for that is President Erdoğan’s geared-up target to shift the country from the parliamentary system to a strong president system through a new constitution. In the system Erdoğan and his team have been designing, the executive power would be more centralized in the hands of the president with lesser checks-and-balances; little or no room will be left for the prime minister. That debate goes in parallel with another one about the president keeping the party leader post, or at least party membership, which is opposite to the non-partisanship clause in the current constitution. With or without that being realized one thing is clear: Erdoğan wants to have full control over the government and the AK Parti. In such a design, a caretaker prime minister and party chairman is sought, at least until the constitution change, if and when it takes place.

That is what is meant by a “low profile” PM, a PM who will not take initiative, won’t improvise, won’t make any move in domestic, foreign or economic policies without having full approval of the president in government affairs; the same applies for party affairs. Such a scheme, if it becomes real, means there will be one single address to whom it may concern in Turkey’s foreign relations, from diplomacy to the economy.

“It is a shame,” Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said, “To see the members of the ruling party, the government, in a competition to show that they are the least capable of using political initiative to become the puppet prime minister.” Kılıçdaroğlu raised the bar of his claims on May 11, saying that “one person will speak, and everyone will obey. One person will tell and the judges will make their rulings accordingly. You cannot make this system work without spilling blood in the country.” His words are likely to cause some aftershocks on the political stage.

“Go and mind your own business,” Erdoğan snubbed Kılıçdaroğlu and other opposition parties, as Nurettin Canikli, a parliamentary spokesman for the AK Parti, revealed they were ready to submit a draft for a constitutional change to parliament in June.

There is still one question to be answered: How low profile a prime minister and party chairman can both Erdoğan and the large AK Parti group in parliament afford without any cracks forming in the body? We may all see in the coming weeks.