Has Davutoğlu been left alone in his own party?

Has Davutoğlu been left alone in his own party?

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan’s itinerary had been scheduled months before.

He was going to visit South Korea on Sept. 7-9 and India on Sept. 9-10 to boost economic (and technological) ties and then to go to Kazakhstan on Sept. 10-11 to attend the fifth summit of the Cooperation of Turkic Speaking Countries group.

Back then, it was not clear than Turkey would be going to an early election on Nov. 1 or that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) would have to have a congress on Sept. 12.

Still, those two things should not have been a reason for Erdoğan to cancel such well-organized trips East, at a time when there is no opportunity for him to have official trips in the West. After all, parliamentary elections officially have nothing to do with the president. Following his election as president last year, Erdoğan had to resign from the AK Parti because of the non-partisanship rule of the constitution. So no party congress is supposed to have relations with the president. 

Not for Erdoğan. He cancelled his trips in order to redesign the AK Parti by pulling some strings behind the curtain, to guarantee that there be no schism within the party questioning his authority as Turkey heads for a snap election that is of key importance for the rest of his career. If the outcome of the June 7 election, when the AK Parti lost its parliamentary majority, is repeated in the Nov. 1 election, then Erdoğan will have no chance to rule the country as if the constitution has been de facto altered from the current parliamentary system to a strong presidential one. In order to do that, he first of all needs an AK Parti loyal to him.

It is not in vain that Bülent Arınç - one of the original triumvirates together with Erdoğan and (former president) Abdullah Gül - said just before the congress that the party’s spirit of “us” has turned into the spirit of “me.” It is no surprise that Arınç’s name was crossed out, or that Gül was not officially invited to the congress even as a guest. Ali Babacan, the AK Parti’s economy tsar for its entire 13-year rule was also crossed out, so too the name of his team-mate Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek. Both were known as being against lowering interest rates and intervening in Erdoğan’s Central Bank policy. The name of every AK Parti veteran whose name is somehow known to be close to Gül, (who is most probably seen by Erdoğan as a potential threat), was crossed out from Davutoğlu’s candidate list for the party’s Central Decision and Direction Board (MKYK), which was approved by the congress on Sept. 12.

There are 31 new names in the MKYK. As seasoned political reporter Yalçın Bayer wrote in Hürriyet, “the Gül team has gone but the Davutoğlu team has not replaced it.” The new list has Erdoğan’s seal. Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who was elected as an MP in the June election, is likely to be one of the key figures in the party from now on. He may assume a key post in a possible government, possibly in the economy portfolio. 

Daily Cumhuriyet commented that Davutoğlu has been left “alone in his own party.” According to reports, Davutoğlu only managed to put two names of his own on the party list, both from his hometown Konya.

Some may call this a purge; some may call it bringing in fresh blood. Daily Sabah reported that the AK Parti is now ready for the Nov. 1 election “with the love of the origins.”

Erdoğan was able to do this thanks to the time he saved by cancelling his trips abroad. Binali Yıldırım, a former transport minister and known to be one of Erdoğan’s right hand men in relation to business circles, reportedly phoned deputies and delegates to request their support for his candidate just three days before the congress. In the end, there little no need to say that Yıldırım is in the new AK Parti executive. Apparently, the cost of Davutoğlu keeping his chair letting the candidate list be shaped according to Erdoğan’s will. Ultimately, Davutoğlu was elected by 1,353 votes out of 1,445 delegates with no competitors; but it seems all key posts will be filled by names hundred percent loyal to Erdoğan.

According to media reports, power over the signatures of some 900 delegates is in the hands of Yıldırım. This is an indication that in the event of any divergence from Erdoğan’s directions, those delegates could be used against Davutoğlu. That is why Sept. 18 will be another important day to observe interactions within the AK Parti. That is the date when the parties will submit their final list of candidates for parliament to the Supreme Election Board (YSK). It is likely that names loyal to Erdoğan will dominate the next AK Parti group in parliament.

Is all this maneuvering also a pre-emptive move to control post-election developments? If the AK Parti regains its single-party majority, a parliamentary group with no schism could act as a unified executive power, instead of playing a lawmaking and checking-and-balancing role. If the AK Parti fails to regain its majority, Erdoğan may end up being a hidden participant of coalition talks - especially negotiations with the Republican People’s Party (CHP). 

In summary, Erdoğan has now secured full control over the party that he co-founded with Gül and Arınç many years ago but officially left after he was elected president last year. This is in line with his target of ruling Turkey with empowered (even de facto) powers and weaker checks and balances.

Meanwhile, one move that cast a shadow over the AK Parti congress was the inclusion of Abdurrahim Boynukalın in the MKYK. Boynukalın, an MP and the head of party’s youth branch, took place in the protest against the headquarters of daily Hürriyet in Istanbul that turned violent through a physical attack on the building. At that protest, Boynukalın threatened that after Erdoğan secures the presidential powers he wants, “no matter what the outcome of the elections,” Hürriyet and the Doğan Media Group would “have to get out of Turkey.” Just six days after this incident, it was disappointing for most of the members of the press to see Boynukalın appointed to a prestigious post in the AK Parti’s central decision-making body.