It’s Erdoğan’s party and Davutoğlu has a hard job

It’s Erdoğan’s party and Davutoğlu has a hard job

“One flag, one land, and only Erdoğan.”

That slogan had rarely been heard before, but it was often shouted in the Aug. 27 congress of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) by members of its youth organization. At the congress, Prime Minister and now President-elect Tayyip Erdoğan handed over the party’s chairmanship to
outgoing Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

There was only one candidate anyway and Davutoğlu was proud of this. In his speech, he criticized the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) congress to be held next weekend, where CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu will be challenged by one of his spokesmen in Parliament. For Davutoğlu, to have competition within the party for the leadership would be a kind of weakness.

Süleyman Soylu, the AK Parti deputy chairman who delivered the opening speech of the congress, was also proud that Davutoğlu’s candidacy was signed by almost all the delegates of the party.

Calling the AKP his “fifth child” and his “love,” Erdoğan handed over the helm of the party to Davutoğlu as a necessity of the Turkish Constitution, which says the president should not be a member of a party after he (or she) is elected. That was one of the reasons why Erdoğan used his party’s domination at Parliament to go to recess, in order for his presidency not to be read in Parliament until the very last day of his rule in the party. Today, on Aug. 28, Erdoğan is going to take over the job from President Abdullah Gül after taking an oath in Parliament, and he will officially hand over the office to Davutoğlu to form a Cabinet. Erdoğan said during the congress that the new Cabinet would be announced on Aug. 29, Friday. He is very sure that Davutoğlu will have it ready in a day and there will be no objection, because they have most probably already gone through the list together. (The fact that Ali Babacan, the deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, was the only name from the entire Cabinet and AK Parti echelons that Erdoğan mentioned in his speech - other than Davutoğlu - was seen in the hall as a sign that he will probably keep the post in the new Cabinet. This is Kremlinology alla AK Parti.)
Erdoğan’s message to the party was clear. Yes, he is moving to the Presidential Palace on top of Çankaya Hill in Ankara, but in the political sense he is not going anywhere. “This is not a farewell speech,” he said. “This is just a new beginning.”

He also gave another indication that he wants to maintain control over the party even under Davutoğlu. For example, he asked Soylu to deliver the opening speech at the congress. Soylu is one of the most recent executive board members - or actually members - to join the AK Parti. He used to be the chairman of a center-right opposition party, the Democrat Party, until September 2012, over a year after Erdoğan’s 50 percent election win. One could have expected, for example, Mehmet Ali Şahin - the former parliamentary chairman and justice minister, and currently Erdoğan’s first deputy in charge of political and legal affairs who has been serving the “cause” for at least four decades - to deliver the opening speech. To ask Soylu was a strong signal that, from now on, the cause will be loyalty to Erdoğan himself.

This could actually be observed in the audience. Nothing but the name of Erdoğan sparked enthusiasm among the thousands of supporters filling the Ankara Arena sports hall in the August heat. Davutoğlu delivered a very heated speech with a high dose of history and ideology, which was unable to keep some of the audience in the hall, and the only parts of his speech that got strong applause from the party delegates were the parts when he mentioned Erdoğan by name.

It is still Erdoğan’s party and Davutoğlu has a difficult job. Both Erdoğan and Davutoğlu know this, and probably so do many in the AK Parti. Otherwise, Erdoğan would not have had to say in his speech that “Mr. Davutoğlu is not a caretaker, he will be at the helm,” and Davutoğlu would not have had the defensive position to say, “There should be no worry that the popularly elected president will be in discrepancy with the prime minister.”

It is no a coincidence that the young Erdoğan fans were shouting the Erdoğan slogan from the top rows, even as he was leaving the party on paper.