Whose words count in Ankara as Turkey’s decisions?

Whose words count in Ankara as Turkey’s decisions?

Ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) circles were trying the extinguish the fire, or pretending that there was no fire at all, regarding the exchange of words between President Tayyip Erdoğan and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç over the Kurdish issue, when the AK Parti’s intrepid Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek started to machine gun Arınç with tweets on March 23.

Declaring, “We don’t want you anymore,” Gökçek demanded via Twitter for Arınç to resign from the government, and if he did not resign for Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to sack him. Gökçek also suggested that Arınç might be under the influence of U.S.-based moderate Islamist ideologue Fethullah Gülen, who was one a close ally of Erdoğan but is now his archenemy. Arınç is one of three founding fathers of the AK Parti, together with Erdoğan and former President Abdullah Gül.

The exchange of words between Erdoğan and Arınç is over the Kurdish issue only on the surface. Actually, it was about the powers of the president and the government, of which Arınç is the spokesman. Erdoğan recently objected to the formation of a Monitoring Group for the official ongoing negotiations between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for a political solution to the Kurdish problem. Arınç objected to Erdoğan’s objection, saying it was government’s responsibility to deal with day-to-day political matters. 

In the meantime, the message of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, was read in Diyarbakır on March 21, calling on the group for a strategy shift including the laying down of arms. That did not suppress the war of words between the two old comrades. When Erdoğan said it was also wrong for government figures to be in the same picture as deputies of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) - who are mediating between the government and the PKK - when both parties reiterated their willingness for a political solution on Feb. 28, Arınç said they “all loved the president,” but there was also a government in this country too.

The two opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), do not want to get involved in the fight that is continuing on two levels - between the government and the HDP and between the president and the deputy prime minister. Both the CHP and the MHP are waiting to see how all those involved corrode each other.

However, HDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş has said he wanted to hear what Prime Minister Davutoğlu has to say on the discord, as his party wants to take the government as a counterpart - as dictated by the constitution - not the president.

This seems to be a key issue for those watching political and economic developments in Turkey both inside and outside the country. Whose words should be taken into account to understand what Turkey says: The president or the government? If the president and the government were from different parties, this discrepancy could be understood, but they are of the same party in this case.

Over the last three months, such authority issues have broken out in at least four major cases: Erdoğan’s slamming of Davutoğlu’s draft law on transparency, the reversed resignation of National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Chief Hakan Fidan, the row over the independence of the Central Bank and the direction of the economy, and now the Monitoring Group controversy.

This authority issue is what Davutoğlu needs to clarify - not only in rhetoric but also in practice - for the sake of the predictability and thus credibility of the Turkish government.