Power game within the AK Parti
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan is gathering the cabinet today, March 9, for the second time since he assumed power last August, before the dust has even settled on the debates after the first such meeting chaired by Erdoğan on Jan. 19.
The first meeting was quite tense. Before an eight-and-a-half hour meeting, at which the president was briefed on six key items, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu had an 80-minute one-on-one meeting, after which Davutoğlu did not even try to hide his tension from the cameras as they entered the room together. he sat with a long face in the line with the other ministers – not sharing the head of the table as an acknowledgement to his position, as all former prime ministers have been allowed to do.
But the tension between the two had started almost a month before that meeting, when Erdoğan’s unofficial adviser, former Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım, took the liberty to go public and announce that the president would call Davutoğlu’s cabinet for a meeting.
In hindsight, it is possible to say that was the moment when Davutoğlu, who has been 100 percent harmonious with Erdoğan in whatever he says, remembered his position and decided to use his powers as prime minister.
After that point, Erdoğan reportedly started to complain that Davutoğlu was doing things – such as drafting laws - without getting his consent in advance. These things are perfectly constitutional but apparently not acceptable for Erdoğan.
Then came the resignation of Hakan Fidan as head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). Despite being a key figure in talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in pursuit of a political settlement to Turkey’s chronic Kurdish problem, it had been rumored for some time that he would resign, join the AK Parti, and probably become Davutoğlu’s foreign minister after the elections. Of course, if this was approved by the president..
Everyone thought that was a design of Erdoğan and Davutoğlu together until Erdoğan’s outburst on Feb. 8, the day after Fidan’s resignation, saying that Fidan resigned upon Davutoğlu’s will and despite his own objection.
That constituted a major scratch in Erdoğan’s imperious image, ironically inflicted by himself, which confused the minds of the AK Parti group in parliament about who would choose the names for the candidate list in the June election. Would it be Erdoğan, as it used to be, or would it be Davutoğlu, who holds all the legal power?
The essence of this power game should not be missed: It is about the super-presidential model with vague separation of powers and weak checks-and-balances that Erdoğan promotes, through the passing of a new constitution after the election. Neither Davutoğlu, nor the AK Parti government that Erdoğan led for many years, has given public support for that model yet, in which there would be no place for a prime minister and parliament’s role would be reduced to simply rubber stamping the president’s decisions.
As we get closer to the June 7 elections and still hear no support for the presidential system from Davutoğlu, (in addition to affairs like the Fidan resignation and the row over the Central Bank’s interest rates), Erdoğan is raising the bar of his target. He is aiming for the support of 400 deputies in the 550-seat parliament, which seems far from realistic given Turkey’s fragmented political spectrum, and he recently brought the name of former President Abdullah Gül back to the power game.
By raising Gül’s name, Erdoğan wanted to tell Davutoğlu that he is not without any alternative, and the alternative is a much stronger name than the prime minister. But Erdoğan made the call in such a way that it sounded like Gül needed Erdoğan’s approval to be a candidate in the elections, and he had actually asked for it. This could cause further confusion within the AK Parti about who is in charge now and who will be in future.
Davutoğlu, meanwhile, is trying to keep his calm and do what he has to do in terms of government affairs, avoiding confronting the president in public.
It all proves that Davutoğlu is not just a sitting target as perhaps Erdoğan thought he was when hand-picking him in order to cut Gül’s path back to the AK Parti before the presidential election last August. Now, Davutoğlu is certainly a key player, in contrast with the original image put on him.
The power game within the AK Parti is likely to become more exciting as soon as Gül’s decision for his candidacy is clear.