Erdoğan-Davutoğlu rift seems only a matter of time

Erdoğan-Davutoğlu rift seems only a matter of time

There is a lot of talk about a rift between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Davutoğlu denies this but the general feeling is that there can be no smoke without fire.

Speculation was fueled even more recently when Nasuhi Güngör, a columnist close to Erdoğan, said on live television that it was time for Ahmet Davutoğlu to go because he was blocking Turkey’s transition to a presidential system and thus preventing the country from moving on.

Supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were quick to explain that Güngör was expressing his own opinion. But the haste with which they felt the need to say this, combined with the fact that Güngör lost his column in the pro-government daily Sabah after he uttered his remark, showed that behind the scenes not all is peaceful.

Güngör claimed, during a debate on a channel that is close to the government, that there is a political vacuum in Turkey today because the Davutoğlu government is preventing a serious discussion on a transition to the presidential system. This, he argued, has resulted in two centers of power in Turkey, namely the president and the prime minister.

“Davutoğlu provided very important services as foreign minister … But Turkey has to break this duality in its administrative structure,” he said. “Let me speak openly, the situation has become unsustainable under Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu. The AKP has to find a new path for itself,” Güngör added.

It is hard to believe that Güngör is the only one thinking along these lines among Erdoğan supporters. There is tangible impatience among these supporters with the lack of a full commitment on Davutoğlu’s part to carrying out Erdoğan’s requests. 

Erdoğan has also reflected his impatience when it comes to certain topics, starting with the question of a new constitution that will also transform Turkey from a parliamentary system into a presidential one, where he can wield power without the burden of any system of checks and balances.

The fact that Davutoğlu appears not to be as enthusiastic for a presidential system as he claims to be, and he certainly does not appear to be in a hurry to introduce this system, is leading Erdoğan supporters like Güngör to accuse him of dragging his feet in this regard.

Erdoğan is also said to be unhappy about the way that Davutoğlu handled the question of lifting the parliamentary immunity of the pro-Kurdish deputies from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Erdoğan wants key HDP members to lose their immunity and to be tried under anti-terrorism laws for allegedly supporting separatist Kurdish terrorism.

Davutoğlu, however, has been forced to look on the matter from a democratic perspective, since the HDP deputies are elected members of parliament, and his way out of this dilemma was to broaden the scope of those whose parliamentary immunity would be lifted in order to make it appear as if they were not acting selectively against HDP deputies. 

He realizes that being selective in this manner would tarnish his democratic record, especially when so many other deputies have been evading trials for various crimes or misdemeanors by claiming parliamentary immunity.

Erdoğan and Davutoğlu also appear at odds over how to deal with the West. Erdoğan continues to blast at the West for its alleged perfidy toward the Islamic world and suggests he would like to carry Turkey closer to the Islamic world and make it less dependent on the West. 

Davutoğlu, however, indicates that he continues to value Ankara’s strategic ties with the West, especially with the European Union which he claims Turkey still wants to join as a full member, even if his words generally ring hollow.

The bottom line is that while Erdoğan and Davutoğlu may appear keen to dispel any notions that divisions are emerging between them, the writing on the wall shows that a rift is in fact developing on a number of levels, and it is just a matter of time before this erupts in earnest.