What will Davutoğlu’s role be as PM?

What will Davutoğlu’s role be as PM?

Ahmet Davutoğlu officially became prime minister on Wednesday. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan officially becomes president today. We now have a popularly elected president and a popularly elected prime minister at Turkey’s helm.

No one can dispute that both are assuming their news jobs democratically. The source of curiosity now, however, is how this is going to work constitutionally. Under the present Constitution, the prime minister is the head of the executive.

The presidency, on the other hand, is not just a ceremonial position, but neither is it a position that allows Erdoğan to exercise the executive powers that he says he intends to use. The only way this will work legally is if the president and the prime minister are in total harmony and have a strong position in Parliament. 

Given Erdoğan’s ambitions, this formula requires Davutoglu to become totally subservient to him and carry out his directives without question. This will mean that the roles played by the prime minister and the president prior to the Aug. 10 presidential elections are reversed. 

Former President Abdullah Gül, despite his claims to have been impartial, endorsed just about everything that was sent to him by former Prime Minister Erdoğan. Now it is Davutoğlu’s turn to do the same. Given this odd situation, the columnist Cengiz Çandar has pointed to what he refers to as “Davutoğlu’s paradox.”

According to Çandar, as well as others, Davutoğlu’s main task now - by virtue of the fact that he was selected as the person to carry out Erdoğan’s wishes – will be to diminish the importance of the office of the prime minister in favor of the presidency.

In other words, Davutoğlu automatically starts off on a weak foot as prime minister. Despite the fact that he is legally the head of the executive, his reigns are in Erdoğan’s hands. Davutoğlu knows this of course and undoubtedly accepts it as a given fact.

This is why, instead of referring to it as the “Davutoğlu government,” we must now refer to “The Erdoğan administration,” the way we refer to “The Obama administration.” That suits Erdoğan, of course, and would even be pleasing to him given that he has openly said he favors a presidential system for Turkey.

The problem is that he is an “executive president” today by default and not by legal merit. In other words, he will be able to do what he wants because he has a compliant prime minister, strong backing in Parliament, and a weak opposition.

The only obstacle facing Erdoğan today is the Constitutional Court, which he failed to bring under government control as prime minister. We know that Erdogan hates the Court, given its present independence, from the way he reacted when it ruled that the government’s Twitter ban was unconstitutional.

Erdoğan said at the time that he accepted the Court’s ruling but did not respect it. So one of the Erdogan administration’s main tasks will be to try and change the Constitution and bring this court under control.

To do that he needs the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to come out of the 2015 general elections even stronger that it is today so that it can gain the two thirds majority in Parliament it needs to submit Erdoğan’s Constitution to a referendum.

Trying to achieving this will be Davutoğlu’s task as leader of the AKP and prime minister. It remains to be seen whether he can to it.

What is certain at this stage, however, is that Davutoğlu’s role will not be to try and develop Turkey’s democratic system further, to strengthen the separation of powers principle, to increase individual and collective rights and freedoms, and to ensure that the rule of law is respected.

Doing all of that would work to Erdoğan’s disadvantage as president, and that is not what Davutoğlu was brought in to do.