Davutoğlu finally supports Erdoğan’s presidency model

Davutoğlu finally supports Erdoğan’s presidency model

Perhaps it was the remarks of Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and former President Abdullah Gül that forced Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to clarify his position regarding the “strong presidency” model that President Tayyip Erdoğan has been advocating for months.

As the two other main founders of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) along with Erdoğan, Arınç and Gül had earlier said it was not important whether Turkey is ruled by a parliamentary or presidential model, but there should always be a clear separation of powers, checks and balances, and a strong parliament.

Erdoğan, on the other hand, has complained for years that clear separation of powers “chains” the executive power elected by the people to the judiciary, which consists of appointed prosecutors and judges. He has said a one-chamber parliament would be enough to maintain checks-and-balances; another senate, for example, could tie one of the government’s hands behind its back. For the government, the presence of a prime minister would be irrelevant, as the president would be elected by the people as well.

There is no prime minister in the U.S. presidential system, but there is a vice president, a senate, and a strong Supreme Court overseeing the administration. Erdoğan doesn’t like this arrangement and says so openly. In Turkey, there is a prime minister whose role is reduced to a cabinet coordinator level, but there is also a senate, a Supreme Court, and a strong Council of State, all of which Erdoğan thinks weakens the power of the president.

Recently, Erdoğan referred to a modified Mexican model, where there is no prime minister and ministers are appointed by the president from outside parliament, but there is still a senate and the president can be elected only once for a six-year term. Erdoğan has doubts about this model too.

Especially after he made it clear that he is in favor of a system where there would probably be no place for a prime minister, all eyes were on Davutoğlu. Government spokesman Arınç and AKP spokesman Beşir Atalay had already said that shifting to a “strong-president” model through a new constitution after the June 7 election was not yet on their schedule. Davutoğlu also had not said a word on the subject, despite almost daily public statements from Erdoğan, who wanted to hear his support. 

Davutoğlu finally broke his silent resistance during a live interview on Habertürk TV station on March 27, saying the president is right to demand a presidential system for Turkey. He also said it would be one of the AK Parti’s election promises, without going into further details about what kind of presidential system he has in mind. 

“The opposition had turned this into a matter of personality,” Davutoğlu said, implying that otherwise he would not have touched the issue.

Indeed, the opposition parties are expressing their strong concerns about Erdoğan’s “strong-president” model, claiming that it could drag Turkey toward autocratic one-man-rule, which could also make Turkey a liability to the West.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the head of the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has already declared that his party will try its best to stop Erdoğan from becoming a super-president. Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) head Devlet Bahçeli has no objection in principle to a presidential system, but not the model that Erdoğan wants. Finally, Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chair of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has joined the “anti” chorus in a very strong way, declaring that there will be no presidential model for “as long as we breathe.”

That strong attitude of the opposition and the emerging signs of internal-opposition within the AK Parti might have forced Davutoğlu to declare his full obedience to Erdoğan on the presidency question.

Does that obedience include letting Erdoğan compose the lists of AK Parti candidates for the June 7 elections, with a certain number of positions given to Davutoğlu’s initiative, as it is being discussed in the political backstage? We will see the answer to that after April 7, when the parties’ candidate lists will be submitted to the Supreme Election Board (YSK). 

Davutoğlu’s submission to Erdoğan’s will on the presidential system appears not to have come at the best time for himself, but it does clarify positions on the government front.