Erdoğan’s authority challenged by Davutoğlu and Fidan

Erdoğan’s authority challenged by Davutoğlu and Fidan

It must be very difficult for a leader who likes to exercise authority like Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan to admit publicly that he failed to convince Hakan Fidan, the powerful head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), to stay in office. “Unfortunately,” Erdoğan told reporters accompanying him on his trip to Latin America, “he said he could not continue any longer.”

A day before, on Feb. 8, before leaving Istanbul, Erdoğan had shocked everyone, after saying that he was against Fidan’s candidacy to become a member of parliament for the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) in the June 7 elections. Yes, it is still his party, but it was not his choice to see Fidan there. Rather, it was Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s choice. 

“I told that to the Prime Minister too, but it is something that he has to decide,” Erdoğan also said. 

According to the constitution, the MİT is still under the prime minister, which is one of the reasons why Erdoğan wants it to be formally tied to the presidency in the strong presidential system that he dreams of.

On board the presidential plane, he said something bitter about both Davutoğlu and Fidan, without directly giving their names. “Perhaps he [Fidan] is planning to become a candidate [for parliament] or beyond [like a minister]. Or perhaps he was given certain promises, I can’t know that. But I told him [Fidan] that I did not find his departure from the MİT to be appropriate,” Erdoğan said.

Those three sentences are open to a series of deductions and questions. Davutoğlu is the only person, apart from Erdoğan, who has the capacity to “promise” certain things, like a seat in parliament or a place in the cabinet. So, is Erdoğan accusing Davutoğlu, like an adversary, of luring his most-favored official (Erdoğan used to call Fidan his “black box”) with political posts? Can Fidan, the head of the intelligence agency, be so naive as to be lured with new toys? Or is he an opportunist looking for the right time to jump off one tram to get onto another?

Erdoğan also asked whether this is the right time for Fidan to leave office, with the dialogue between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for a political settlement to the Kurdish problem - in which Fidan has played a key role from day one - at a critical stage. The future of the Kurdish problem is a major concern for Erdoğan, who combines it in his mind (remember his recent “400 deputies needed” speech) with the elections and securing a new constitution with a strong presidential model. 

But the Kurdish problem is also a concern for Davutoğlu and Fidan, too. 

Therefore, the real source of Erdoğan’s anger must be something else. It could be, for example, a challenge he is facing from his closest circle, from the two men he has been relying on so far. His remark to reporters, “I will carry on this struggle even if I have to walk alone,” says a lot about his psychology.

The opposition parties have decided to stay slightly distanced from this issue. Despite the fact that there is no previous example in Turkish politics where an intelligence chief has resigned from his post to jump into politics like this, there have been no “caught red-handed in partisanship” cries from the opposition. There has been no “Who on the earth would take your word seriously?” criticism, the kind that one can often expect in Turkish politics. It seems that they do not want to get involved in this emerging and unexpected internal row.

It is possible that Erdoğan and Davutoğlu will find a way to find common ground, as the June 7 elections are too valuable to risk. But this wound is the kind that can leave a scar on the face, and it is likely to have political consequences - especially within the governing party.