Erdoğan sets mission impossible for Davutoğlu

Erdoğan sets mission impossible for Davutoğlu

During a public rally in the northwestern city of Bursa on Feb. 6, President Tayyip Erdoğan demanded 400 seats in the 550-seat Turkish Parliament in the June 7 elections, saying this target was necessary in order to secure a strong presidential system, a solution to the Kurdish problem, a new constitution, and a “New Turkey.” 

By setting such a high goal, Erdoğan puts immense pressure on the shoulders of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, his successor in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti).

The demand is also open to speculation for a variety of political scenarios.

First of all, 400 seats amount to 72 percent of parliament. But for a constitutional change to be passed without the need for a referendum, two-thirds of seats, (or 367 seats), are enough. That is a very tough goal. Erdoğan himself was unable to reach that goal, even when he managed to get a rare 50 percent for the AK Parti in the 2011 parliamentary elections. 

Pollsters say any party that wants to secure 400 seats in the Turkish parliament needs to get roughly 60-65 percent of the vote. In 1954, the Democrat Party got the highest vote rate in Turkey’s history, securing 57 percent of the vote after a highly controversial election campaign.

Secondly, we can assume that Erdoğan is not demanding so many votes from the AK Parti’s base alone. So, with the help of which party? According to one scenario, support could be expected from the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), as Erdoğan named a solution to the Kurdish problem and his strong presidential system demand, both within the new constitution framework, in the same sentence of his speech.

Here, we should give some important information from the Ankara backstage. 

On Feb. 5, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu had a series of meetings. Erdoğan received National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan in the morning. Fidan then went to Davutoğlu. The meeting which was supposed to last one hour reportedly went on for three hours. Davutoğlu then went to Erdoğan, for a meeting that went on for more than three hours, according to media reports. The final two meetings therefore took an unusually long length of time for routine weekly reports on state affairs.

The key point here could be the Kurdish issue. On Feb. 4 a critical meeting took place between government officials (including from the MİT), HDP deputies, and outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, in İmralı Island Prison where the latter is being held. A “reinforced cease-fire” project is now on the table between the Davutoğlu government and the PKK. If the talks between the HDP deputies and the PKK leaders in Iraq’s Kandil Mountains go as planned, and if the government approves them, it is possible that the AK Parti government and the HDP will make a joint statement in the coming days about a roadmap for a political settlement for the Kurdish problem.

Unless Erdoğan is asking for a nearly impossible 400 seats from Davutoğlu’s AK Parti alone, possible HDP support seems to be the only scenario that can secure the arithmetic.

Another key issue for Erdoğan is changing Turkey to a strong presidential system. But Davutoğlu has yet to give his strong public support for such a system, in which there would be no longer any place for a prime minister, according to Erdoğan’s design. Both Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and AK Parti Deputy Chairman Beşir Atalay have said the change is not yet on the agenda of either the government or the party.

The presidency may therefore have been another item in those three-hour talks earlier this week, as Erdoğan (not the AK Parti) has already announced on behalf of the party that a new constitution is necessary for a strong presidency.

Is Erdoğan calculating that the HDP, if it gets into parliament with a strong presence, would vote for his strong presidential powers if the new constitution’s draft also includes extra autonomy rights for Kurds?
In either case, Erdoğan seems to have set a very ambitious goal for Davutoğlu, which increases the political pressure on his shoulders.