Elections are too important for Erdoğan to be left to Davutoğlu
Under normal circumstances, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s target in the Turkish parliamentary elections on June 7 was expected to be to keep the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) in power.
In order to achieve that, a simple majority (276 seats) is enough in the 550-seat parliament.
But Davutoğlu has been commissioned with another mission and another target by President Tayyip Erdoğan since the presidential elections last August when he was handpicked by Erdoğan to succeed as chair of the party through a congress, in which no other candidates dared to step up, and then as prime minister thanks to the party’s majority in the parliament. That mission was a two-thirds parliamentary majority (367 seats) to vote in a new constitution based on a strong presidency with lesser checks and balances (limited to a single-chamber parliament, no strict separation of powers) or at least three-fifths (330 seats), enough to take such a super-presidency to a referendum.
Davutoğlu had no problem with the concept of a presidential system, instead of a distorted parliamentary one in Turkey. But especially after Erdoğan made it clear that there was no place for a prime minister in the presidential system in his mind, Davutoğlu resisted for a few months and did not give open support in public for such a model. Davutoğlu’s resistance was broken a few days before the candidate lists were announced on April 7. A vow for a strong presidential system had its place in the election declaration of the AK Parti, as read out by Davutoğlu on April 15.
The theme of the AK Parti for this election is to present a strong presidential system to their founding leader, Erdoğan. Abdülkadir Selvi, a columnist for pro-government Yeni Şafak, wrote on April 16 that Davutoğlu got the best response, applause and cheers from AK Parti supporters in announcing the election declaration when he mentioned Erdoğan’s name; it is still Erdoğan who matters for the average AK Parti follower. Erdoğan, in a way, is asking people to vote for his super-presidency, reducing the importance of forming a new parliament and a new government to a tool of leverage for his own target.
The situation is so unconventional that if Davutoğlu wins the elections, that is, if he gets a clear majority to form another AK Parti government with more than 276 seats but unable to achieve 330, he will not be able to make Erdoğan happy. If it doesn’t pave the way for Erdoğan’s super-presidency, Davutoğlu’s victory could mean a defeat for Erdoğan. Despite Davutoğlu’s ambitious election target of getting more than 55 percent, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu both know that under the current estimates for vote distribution, 55 percent would only be possible with a miracle. And especially if the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is focused on the Kurdish problem, is able to exceed the unfair 10 percent threshold and get into parliament, it might be practically impossible for the AK Parti to take a new constitution to a referendum alone.
The question here is whether Erdoğan can leave it to chance and bow to the election results if people say that they do not want a super-president, even if there would be another AK Parti government.
Not very likely. In spite of reports leaked from Erdoğan’a Ak Saray that Erdoğan would leave the stage to Davutoğlu and not overshadow him in his first election, there are preparations in the presidential office to have at least one public appearance almost every day until the elections in either open-air or indoor occasions, making sure that they will be broadcast live on almost all national channels. In a way, the AK Parti would use the mass media from two channels for election purposes; Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, adding more to the already-existing imbalance between the media penetration between the government and opposition parties.
Erdoğan’s moves might not be limited to public appearances as well, since he believes the June 7 elections are too vital for him to be left to Davutoğlu alone.