Will Erdoğan or Davutoğlu decide the AKP candidate lists?

Will Erdoğan or Davutoğlu decide the AKP candidate lists?

Almost every TV news station shifted their live coverage to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s press conference on Oct. 24 at lunch time, leaving Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s sentences incomplete. 

Davutoğlu had been addressing the provincial leaders of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) for more than an hour. Some TV directors did not hesitate a moment to cut him and turn to Erdoğan; others hesitated for around a minute. In the past, it was the Prime Minister’s Office under Erdoğan that used to call some TV stations to ask why they were not broadcasting the PM’s speech live.

There is no legal obligation for private or even public TV stations in Turkey to broadcast every speech of the prime minister or president, of which there are sometimes a few every day. But in practice, at the moment, this is how it works.

And now Erdoğan is the president. He had promised to be a stronger president, to enjoy more executive powers, with the possibility of eclipsing those of the prime minister. With that promise, he was elected with 52 percent of the votes in August.

That percentage is higher than the AK Parti performance of 50 percent in the 2011 parliamentary elections, but that is a secondary issue. With or without percentages, Davutoğlu is the chairman of the party and the prime minister of the government; but Erdoğan is the leader, he has the higher power and charm.

Right before Davutoğlu started his address to the AK Parti local leaders on Oct. 24, a press conference was held by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). “Davutoğlu is carrying the drum, but Erdoğan holds the stick and is playing it,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, quoting a Turkish proverb to describe someone not fully in charge of their own work.

Kılıçdaroğlu also claimed that Erdoğan was giving instructions to ministers and even bureaucrats, thus “bypassing” Davutoğlu. He said some ministers are directly reporting to Erdoğan, thus bypassing the prime minister.

Erdoğan and Davutoğlu have known each other for years. Davutoğlu is wise enough not to get into a power clash with Erdoğan, the leader. And just as was the case with Erdoğan’s discrepancies with former President Abdullah Gül, it may be difficult for Kılıçdaroğlu, as an outside actor, to manipulate and amplify them. So Davutoğlu is likely to perform the role that Erdoğan has given to him: Chair the Cabinet, explain the AK Parti’s politics to people in ideologically-enriched public speeches, and do not risk the confidence of the president.

Another reason for this stability might be the coming parliamentary election.

Whether it will be on time, as scheduled for June 2015 or a bit earlier, perhaps April or May as has been speculated in Ankara for some time, the lists for the AK Parti candidates for the next Parliament will be determined in the party headquarters.

Is it realistic to think Erdoğan, who has to be a non-partisan president according to the Constitution, will have no influence on the AK Parti lists? Is it realistic to say Davutoğlu, who will have the last call on the lists, according to the Political Parties Law, will have no prior consultation or suggestions from Erdoğan? Is it realistic to expect that if Erdoğan does not want a particular individual on the AK Parti lists, including every single person in the AK Parti today, he or she will still have a chance to compete in the 2015 elections? 

Is it possible to answer the question today: Will it be Erdoğan or Davutoğlu who has more influence on the AK Parti candidate lists for the 2015 elections? The answer will say a lot about Turkish politics these days.