De facto system change in Turkey as PM leaves post

De facto system change in Turkey as PM leaves post

Following a meeting with President Tayyip Erdoğan on May 5 that lasted 1 hour 40 minutes, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is taking the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) to an emergency congress on May 22, saying he will not put his name forward as a leadership candidate. 

In other words, Davutoğlu has not resigned but he is stepping down. 

Turkish politics has always been full of surprises. Davutoğlu did not lose an election, did not lose a motion against him in parliament, and did not resign. But he is now set to go to an extraordinary congress, after which he will neither be the party chairman nor the prime minister, just “an ordinary MP for the AK Parti,” as he said in his May 5 statement.

According to Erdoğan, this was Davutoğlu’s own decision and it was Davutoğlu who suggested the formula during their May 4 meeting. But as Davutoğlu said in a press statement, after first noting his successes as prime minister, it was not his choice to end his four-year term within less than seven months – it was a “necessity.” 

He did not elaborate further, but that “necessity” might stem from a lack of trust in the executive board of his own party. On April 29, that board had stripped him of the power to appoint provincial heads and organizations with a motion signed by 47 of the 50 board members. In a reproachful sentence, Davutoğlu said he would like to hear the objections of his colleagues before making the move. “I thought perhaps a new chairman was needed,” he added.

There are a number of candidates for the soon-to-be-vacant post, with the most prominent names being Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, (the latter is Erdoğan’s son-in-law). But it is clear that whoever Erdoğan points to is most likely to get the votes of the AK Parti congress. What Erdoğan would expect from the new party chairman and prime minister is nothing short of 100 percent “harmony” (one may call it loyalty) in both party and government affairs. So in practice it will not matter much who is Turkey’s next prime minister. This will mean a radical though de facto change in the country’s administrative system: A de facto shift to a semi-presidential system where the prime minister effectively acts as the cabinet coordinator of the president.

Describing it as a blow to parliamentary democracy in Turkey, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu called the stepping down of Davutoğlu a “coup by the palace, by the person he calls his leader,” implying Erdoğan. Kılıçdaroğlu added that the CHP would “not accept” this fait-accompli, saying it is “a pity that we have to defend the rights of Davutoğlu.” 

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş has also denounced the move as a “coup.” 
As for Davutoğlu, he said no one would hear a bad word from him against Erdoğan, to whom he said he would remain loyal.

It seems that Erdoğan has managed to achieve a de facto shift in Turkey’s political system, which will further centralize executive power in the president’s hands. He has done this by forcing Davutoğlu to step aside through internal party mechanisms that Erdoğan knows better than anyone else.