What to expect from Davutoğlu

What to expect from Davutoğlu

It was no surprise when President-elect Tayyip Erdoğan announced on Thursday that Turkey’s new prime minister would be Ahmet Davutoğlu, who has been foreign minister since 2009. As a Turk, I can wish him only luck and success, hoping that his well-known diligence will help Turkey in the months and probably years ahead, despite some foreign policy mistakes of the recent past. 

Analytically speaking, I must first say that Davutoğlu’s prime ministry has one big message written all over it: No big change. Clearly, Erdoğan chose Davutoğlu while he was looking for a PM who would be on the same page with him on all important issues. For the same reason, Erdoğan carefully excluded Abdullah Gül because of their mutual differences and disagreements, though Gül has been more popular within the party base more than any other candidate.

No wonder that in the speech he gave before introducing Davutoğlu, Erdoğan noted that the latter’s determination to “fight the parallel state” was one of the key reasons for his trust in him. Davutoğlu reaffirmed this agreement, and also echoed Erdoğan’s epic political line by underlining the AKP’s “sacred march” and its “eternal cause that will go on until the end of times.”

However, it would also be a mistake to think that Davutoğlu will be nothing but a yes-man for Erdoğan. He is an intellectual with deeply held ideals and convictions, and would not shy away from defending them at the expense of short-term political gains. (It is not an accident that the widespread accusations of corruption within the AKP never touched Davutoğlu; because while idealism might be business for some, it is a genuine creed for him.) The fact that Erdoğan respects his knowledge and vision can also give some leverage for Davutoğlu –not to challenge Erdoğan, but to persuade him at times.

The other thing I expect from Davutoğlu is to bring some civility and politeness to Turkey’s horribly rude, offensive and shallow political landscape. (Like many, I am really fed up by seeing angry politicians yelling at each other, exchanging insults, and sometimes even fistfights under the very roof of Parliament.) Even those who find Davutoğlu too “ideological” (i.e., Islamist) grant that he has the qualities of an erudite academic and a fine diplomat. It would be refreshing to see such qualities in the political arena.

On the much-heated issue of the “parallel state,” Davutoğlu’s academic sophistication can also help Turkey if he can bring a critical nuance to the AKP’s crude bravado: the crucial difference between finding criminals and hunting witches. In other words, Davutoğlu should go on with unveiling the secret ears within the state (such as those who wiretapped and exposed his secret strategy meeting on Syria), but he should stop the attacks on civil society (schools, NGOs, companies, banks) which only happen to be in the same religious community with the suspected wiretappers.

We will see more of his vision when Davutoğlu structures his Cabinet. If he keeps Deputy PM for the Economy Ali Babacan in his place, many, including me, will take a deep breath. Because despite (or perhaps because of) his very successful management of the economy, Babacan has become the target of the newly rising nationalist demagogues of the AKP, who call for “an independent economy.” With references to outdated Marxist theorists such as Andre Gunder Frank, that isolationist ideology is perhaps the real “national threat” that faces Turkey.