Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan versus Davutoglu

True to autocratic form, it appears that Turkey’s Erdogan is seeking to clip the wings of a protégé who has presumably grown too strong in stature for his liking, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

Even during the nadir of its decline, when its government was dubbed the “Sick man of Europe”, Turkey had not experienced such a fierce and ugly power struggle. Yet in this Erdogan age, which yearns to revive ancient Ottoman glories, it looks like the powers that be do not want to miss out on the darker aspects of the imperial epochs, especially the unlimited powers that come with totalitarian theocracy and, apparently, the thrill and gore of palace intrigue.

Autocracy, by definition, means that there can be only one man on top. Rivals, actual or potential, need to be eliminated. Last year, engineering intense polarisation and plunging the country into war was deemed necessary in order to reverse the setback of the 7 June elections.

This led to the amazing rebound of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 1 November early elections (regardless of detractors’ remarks regarding rigging and unfairness), which was interpreted as a resounding vote for Erdogan. The road to his ultimate goal now appeared clear and unobstructed.

However, some of those select (and carefully selected and cultivated) members of his inner circle discovered otherwise. They therefore sought his permission to engage in one more battle to remove someone who had become something of a thorn. Ahmet Davutoglu, the former foreign minister, had been handpicked to become Erdogan’s successor as head of the AKP, and as prime minister after Erdogan ascended to the presidency and one more rung towards his final goal.

Initially, Davutoglu performed his role admirably; no one had any doubt who really pulled the strings. However, it has since emerged that European and American powers have reached the conviction that the current prime minister is a more palatable alternative to Erdogan who, in their books, has become persona non grata.

To better understand this, we need to take a brief look back at developments that began 14 years ago.

When the AKP was first swept into power in the 2002 general elections, the party’s and its leader’s hegemonic aspirations were already clear. Although the AKP only won 36 per cent of the popular vote, by virtue of the quirks in the Turkish electoral system, it secured control over almost two thirds (376) of the parliament’s 550 seats.

Anatolia’s rising political star was overjoyed, but he was restless and probably unable to sleep at night. He could not be prime minister yet due to certain legal restrictions, which he called perverse because they happened to apply to him, and was forced to let his AKP cofounder, Abdullah Gül, become prime minister.

True, the situation was temporary, but could this be guaranteed? Might his friend and companion of the road become so enamoured with the trappings of office that he might renege on his word? Just in case, Erdogan made sure to have a say in all major decisions, to accompany the prime minister on political visits and otherwise ensure that his image was fixed in the public eye. Eventually, the term of his ban from running for office ended and he could step into the premiership.

The secularist liberals at the time, true to their faith in democracy and their commitment to battling all forms of authoritarianism, were instrumental in removing the barriers that prevented the party leader from becoming prime minister. The Constitutional Court then settled the matter in favour of the electoral victor.

It would not be long before he turned against those who had helped him into power, unleashing campaigns of repression worse than any that occurred under Turkey’s various military coups. Nor would the court, which could have closed down his party, be spared his wrath and criticisms of a sort that he would not tolerate being directed against himself.

After Erdogan became prime minister, Gül would go on to become president, succeeding Ahmet Necdet Sezer in that post. As Erdogan had his eye on that post, he first did all he could to prevent Gül from becoming president and then to prevent Gül from serving a second term. Curiously, the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of Gül’s right to run for another term, but for reasons we may never know Gül decided that he had served long enough as Turkey’s eleventh president.

In Gül’s day it was widely believed that the presidency was essentially an honorary and ceremonial post with few authorities. After all, that was how the constitution conceived it, and Erdogan would have it no other way when he was prime minister. This, of course, would change when he became Turkey’s twelfth president. Now he wanted to incorporate into this office all the powers he had had as prime minister. This, his heretofore bright and eager protégé Davutoglu failed to grasp.

Erdogan is too intelligent to personally lock horns with his prime minister. However, his aides and cronies are at his beck and call, and only waiting for the signal.

Since the AKP emergency meeting on 12 September, internal differences have grown rife and, in a precedent since the party came to power, they have increasingly percolated into public view. Among Davutoglu’s first mistakes was his refusal to sign a bundle of decisions issued by Turkish Minister of Transport Binali Yıldırım, who is very close to Erdogan.

Then Davutoglu agreed to have parliamentary immunity lifted from some MPs who are wanted by the Turkish courts in connection with the Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, recently arrested in Florida on charges of money laundering. Zarrab’s name had emerged prominently in the 17 and 25 December 2013 corruption scandals that extended deep into the higher echelons of the AKP.

Erdogan’s advisors have intimated to him that the prime minister, under the guise of serving the cause of transparency, is secretly preparing a trap for the president by working to reopen corruption probes in order to put paid to the president’s ambition to transform the Turkish system of government into a presidential one.

They then moved to clip Davutoglu’s wings. On 29 April, the AKP’s highest decision-making body, the Central Decision and Executive Board (MKYK), voted to strip the prime minister of a key authority — the power to appoint AKP provincial and district heads — considerably reducing his power over the party organisation.

Nasuhi Güngör, a columnist for the pro-Erdogan Star newspaper, wrote: “It is no longer possible to work with Prime Minister Davutoglu.” Güngör was fired from Star for his comments. More recently, in what is perceived as a challenge to Erdogan, Davutoglu had Güngör “retired” as deputy general manager of the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT).

It is now rumoured that Davutoglu is on the way out as prime minister and that, in the next emergency session of the AKP congress, he will be replaced by either Binali Yıldırım or by Minister of Energy Berat Albayrak, who also happens to be Erdogan’s son-in-law.

Now what will be Davutoglu’s next step?

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