Who’s who in Erdoğan-Davutoğlu relationship?
To be frank, nobody expected tension to surface so soon in relations between Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
Erdoğan had handpicked Davutoğlu to succeed him both as head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and the government. There were reasons for that, the first being to cut the path of Abdullah Gül, the outgoing president, to leading both the party and the government.
Davutoğlu has long been a name that the AK Parti grassroots is proud of: A successful academic from a low income family from Central Anatolia - rather like former presidents Süleyman Demirel and Turgut Özal, for example, though more on the Islamist side of the political spectrum. The party rank and file also respected and sympathized with Davutoğlu, which made Erdoğan think that he could be an ideal substitute for Gül, who declared months before leaving office that if he returned to politics he would not assume the role of Dmitri Medvedev to Erdoğan’s Vladimir Putin. Davutoğlu was perceived as a threat to neither Erdoğan nor anyone in the party.
For the first few months, everything worked smoothly. Davutoğlu was delivering his public speeches and Erdoğan was running the show, mainly with his previous top operatives. They were an efficient team. Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan; Interior Minister Efkan Ala; İbrahim Kalın in the presidential palace; former National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Chief Hakan Fidan and of course former Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım, who is very good in relations with business circles, being among the top figures in Erdoğan’s team.
The picture started to go weird when Yıldırım appeared on private broadcaster NTV in December, saying that Erdoğan was going to summon the cabinet for a meeting in early January. This was already a controversial matter, and the fact that people did not learn this from Davutoğlu, but rather from Yıldırım, who carries no official title other than being an AK Parti MP, added to the strangeness. In a conversation in parliament, Yıldırım even mentioned a date for the meeting: It was going to be the first cabinet meeting of the year, on Jan. 5. Davutoğlu was disappointed and upset. Later on, he said in a TV interview that Yıldırım had been proven wrong because the meeting was actually held on Jan. 19.
Meanwhile, early in January Davutoğlu announced two “important reforms,” as he described them. One was about the transparency of the assets of public officials, including party officials; the other was about certain restrictions regarding urbanization. Erdoğan slammed them both in public, and told AK Parti officials in a meeting (at which Davutoğlu was not present) that it was not the right time to come up with those issues before the June 7 elections. “You will not be able to find any candidate if you pass those laws,” he reportedly said. He was upset that Davutoğlu had not consulted with him properly before announcing the reforms. Davutoğlu had no such obligation to do so, but Erdoğan was upset anyway.
Ahead of the 8.5-hour long cabinet meeting on Jan. 19, the two had made the other ministers wait for 80 minutes, after which Davutoğlu appeared to enter the room with an unusually long face. Later, there were reports that he did not want to be present in the meeting, but Erdoğan had insisted.
Erdoğan subsequently escalated the volume of his daily addresses, highlighting his preference for a strong presidential system with weaker checks and balances. Davutoğlu has not uttered a single sentence in public so far in support of the system outlined by Erdoğan, in which the prime minister would be downgraded to the level of a cabinet coordinator.
It is clear that the row over Fidan’s resignation to become a candidate for the AK Parti, upon Davutoğlu’s call and against Erdoğan’s will - at a very critical stage of the Kurdish peace process - is not the matter of a single day. It has a history within AK Parti ranks.
Meanwhile today, while speculating on wild scenarios, people are not paying enough attention to Interior Minister Ala, forgetting that Fidan, Akdoğan and Kalın all worked subordinate to him in the prime minister’s office, when he worked there as Erdoğan’s undersecretary. In the Turkish system, you should always keep an eye on the most silent figure.