Erdoğan’s dominance starts weakening AKP
President Tayyip Erdoğan summoned the cabinet yesterday for yet another meeting on March 9, (the second such meeting), amid the ongoing debate in Turkish politics after he hosted his first one as president on Jan. 19.
The latest decision came right after the Turkish military operation of Feb. 21-22, during which the role played by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu dominated the headlines, with pictures of him sitting at the operations table surrounded by generals and other ranking security officials.
The operation itself was not a political victory for Turkey, despite being successfully executed by the Turkish army. Rather, it was a retreat upon pressure and threats from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Still, after all it was Davutoğlu’s show and he decorated the cake with a glamorous PR campaign.
On the next morning, Feb. 23, İbrahim Kalın, Erdoğan’s chief foreign and security aide and presidential spokesman, appeared before the cameras and underlined that it was the president who was in the “command and control” position for the Syria operation, which was “coordinated” by the prime minister.
Shortly after Kalın’s statement, Erdoğan revealed in public that he had called a second cabinet meeting since he took office in August 2014.
The first meeting, on Jan. 19, was uncomfortable for Davutoğlu. Firstly, it had been announced by an unofficial advisor to Erdoğan, former Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım. Secondly, just before the cabinet meeting Erdoğan invited executives of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and - in absence of their chairman, Davutoğlu - slammed two draft bills on economic reform and transparency supported by Davutoğlu, saying they would harm the party’s interests before the June 7 elections.
(Davutoğlu has still yet to submit these bills to parliament.) What’s more, the assembled ministers had to sit and wait for 80 minutes as Erdoğan and Davutoğlu held a one-on-one meeting, after which no explanation was given. Davuroğlu eventually entered the hall with an unusually long face, for the unusually long 8.5-hour meeting.
In Ankara’s political backstage, it has been whispered for some time that Erdoğan wants Davutoğlu to consult with him before important government decisions, which usually means getting his approval.
But that is not the only problem between the two. When Erdoğan made public his design for a strong presidential model, it was understood that there would be no place for a prime minister or second position next to the president, in addition to the curbed roles of parliament and the courts. It is no surprise that Davutoğlu has still yet to publicly express his support for Erdoğan’s stronger presidential model, despite Erdoğan having made it the top issue whenever he speaks in public (which he does more frequently than the PM, almost every day). It is no coincidence that former President Abdullah Gül, a co-founder of the AK Parti with Erdoğan, has issued a warning about the strong presidential system - perhaps voicing the concerns of at least some groups within the AK Parti who are otherwise deterred by Erdoğan’s possible reaction.
The row over the resignation of Hakan Fidan from his position as head of the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) brought up another conflict of interests between the prime minister and the president. “I objected to that,” Erdoğan told reporters after the resignation. “I asked Fidan to stay, but unfortunately he left,” he added, also suggesting that Fidan was perhaps lured by certain positions, indirectly pointing to Davutoğlu as if he was not his hand-picked successor but rather an adversary.
The previously reported advances in the bid to find a political settlement to the Kurdish problem were hit by the resignation of Fidan, who is a key factor in the dialogue process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Damage in the process has also been caused by the aggressive new security bill, imposed mainly by Erdoğan, with the PKK obviously slowing down progress in response.
Not only are Erdoğan’s wish to dominate every aspect of Turkish political life and the vulnerability of the Kurdish problem causing problems, but his “grandiose” projects - especially the huge new palace that he now lives in - have also started to alienate some AK Parti voters. According to some recent polls, nearly 20 percent of core AK Parti supporters have put a hold on their support, (though this doesn’t mean that they have abandoned it yet).
Erdoğan’s decision to convene the cabinet again may indicate that he has decided to put his weight on the AK Parti even more, which may paradoxically contribute to the party’s weakening.