Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1295, (12 - 18 May 2016)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1295, (12 - 18 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Exit Davutoglu

Last week’s removal of Ahmet Davutoglu as Turkey’s prime minister is a further sign of the increasing megalomania of the country’s president, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid in Ankara

Al-Ahram Weekly

As if the storms of change that are sweeping Turkey and casting a murky gloom over all horizons were not enough, last week was something of an exception, bringing two new developments that overshadowed almost all the others. Ordinary people were the protagonists in this latest tragicomedy.

The assassination attempt against the newspaper Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, in front of the courthouse in Istanbul was striking not only because of its high-profile target but also because it reminded people of something unknown in Turkey prior to the era of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

AKP activists are increasingly on the march against any person, group or institution that they believe has offended their beloved reis, or leader. And in the whispered conversations heard among ordinary people, fearful that the walls have ears, there has been little doubt that a hidden hand was at work behind the assassin’s bullet that fortunately missed its target.

Such people now have little idea how best to describe Erdogan. Should he be called the president, or would sultan be more appropriate for someone who takes any occasion to hark back to the glories of the former Ottoman Empire?

During the recent opening of the third bridge over the Bosphorus, controversially named the Yavus Sultan Selim Bridge after the Ottoman sultan Selim I, who was notorious for his persecution of the Alevis in Turkey, Erdogan said that “his” Ottoman ancestors had dreamed of building the bridge.

Behind closed doors and in private gatherings people gave rein to their sarcasm when they watched him on television saying, “On behalf of the Turkish people I express my gratitude to the prime minister for the services he has performed during the 20 months he served as head of the government,” a reference to the apparently forced removal of former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu last week.

“I pray to God that Davutoglu’s decision [to resign] will bring good to the country. Every change brings fresh vitality. I believe that the changes taking place in the offices of the leadership of the AKP and in the prime minister will be a means to achieve this end,” Erdogan said.

Two days before, as if to set the stage for Davutoglu’s departure, Erdogan declared, “Those who attain high office must expect to step down one day on the orders of the people.”

This comment triggered some acerbic remarks, including, “It would be better if Erdogan applied this to himself instead of appointing himself the spokesman of the people,” and “He faults others for clinging to the trappings of power, but he worships those trappings himself.”

“He calls for change because such is the law of life, on the condition that this change does not touch him because he thinks he is on a divinely ordained mission,” people said.

Few now have any doubt that Erdogan’s “mission” will lead to a change for which he has been pushing indefatigably, that being the transformation of the Turkish system of government from a parliamentary to a presidential one with a strong imperial flavour.

For Erdogan, for the sake of the nation and its people, it is crucial for him to remove everything in his path. Last week, this meant Davutoglu, whose major sin was his belief that there was no rush to usher in a presidential system in Turkey.

No sooner had Davutoglu announced his resignation than Erdogan proclaimed his opposition to Turkey’s joining the European Schengen area if this would mean changes in the law that could jeopardise his sole control for life.

By doing so he effectively scuttled the deal that Davutoglu had successfully negotiated with the EU. The deal would have meant visa-free entry into Schengen states for Turkish nationals once Turkey had complied with certain conditions.

Davutoglu’s popularity soared on this accomplishment, and he was praised by European leaders. This gave Erdogan some sleepless nights, and Davutoglu was given the push.

Erdogan also announced his desire to hold a referendum on the introduction of a presidential system to Turkey, saying that this was for the sake of future generations. But were those future generations on Erdogan’s mind when Abdullah Gül was president and he was prime minister?

Erdogan clearly feels he is on a tight schedule, and he seem to be eyeing October at the latest for the next round of parliamentary elections. The parliament in its current form does not give Erdogan’s AKP Party the 330 seats required to bring a constitutional amendment to public referendum.

His hope is that in a third round of elections, the Kurdish Democratic People’s Party (HDP) will not come in sight of the 10 per cent threshold needed for parliamentary representation, especially against the backdrop of the war he has unleashed after aborting the peace process with the Kurds and launching a vilification campaign against Kurdish political leaders.

Another factor that may encourage the holding of early elections is the fact that another opposition party, the right-wing National Movement Party (MHP), is in a leadership crisis. Some observers believe that this ultranationalist party will also be unable to cross the 10 per cent threshold if early polls are held.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) is still the strongest opposition party, but it is being increasingly hampered by the clampdown on the freedom of the press, restrictions on civic freedoms and the AKP control of municipal councils.

According to recent opinion polls, if elections were held now the CHP would not get more than 25 per cent of the vote, meaning that the AKP would come away with around 400 of the parliament’s 550 seats, or more than enough to secure a two-thirds majority.

Erdogan is a consummate pragmatist and schemer, but he may be given to lapses in judgement. Has he appreciated the significance of the popularity won by Davutoglu, especially since a segment of that was effectively a vote against him? Has he forgotten that the party he founded is not supposed to be 100 per cent under his control?

It could be that some AKP members, motivated by a similar conspiratorial mindset, may be setting the stage for an earth-shaking surprise.

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