By Rahmat Hajimineh*
A recent decision by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, which was announced on May 5, to resign his post, can be considered as the outcome of a power struggle in Turkey’s political structure a review of which will not only be important in terms of typology of politicians’ behaviors, but also from the viewpoint of its consequences.
The first thing that seems to be important following Davutoglu’s resignation is the meaning and type of his resignation in political literature of Turkey. The development has been described as the “palace coup” by those opposed to the ruling Justice and Development Party and outspoken critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, including the leader of Turkey’s Republican People’s Party Kemal Kilicdaroglu. This term is used to denote that Davutoglu has been actually deposed from power by Erdogan.
Also, this reaction was aimed at highlighting Erdogan’s totalitarian nature as a person who will even victimize his old friend and close ally in order to pave the way for achieving his ambitions. This measure was also a sign of the opposition parties’ concern about more centralization of power in the hands of Erdogan and one may claim that Kilicdaroglu is trying to exploit political gaps within the Justice and Development Party in favor of his own party. At the same time, Davutoglu’s remarks on his decision to step down can be construed as compulsory resignation, which in political literature is a form of early withdrawal from a power post when the person occupying it left with no other choice.
Another important issue that should be taken into account for correct understanding of this resignation is the time when serious difference emerged between Davutoglu and Erdogan, causing Davutoglu to step down. The point on which analysts have consensus is that differences between the two politicians broke out after Davutoglu was appointed prime minister in 2014, especially following revelations about Turkey’s intelligence service, MIT, using trucks to smuggle weapons into Syria, the news of which was first released by the Cumhuriyet daily. The two politicians later came to loggerheads over trial of two Cumhuriyet journalists who had published the report. If Erdogan had seen or even felt this difference of viewpoints earlier, he would not have chosen this university professor, who had been his senior advisor since 2002, as foreign minister in 2009 and then as the leader of the Justice and Development Party and Turkish prime minister in 2014. Those appointments attested to Erdogan’s complete trust in Davutoglu, which despite existence of other seasoned and more influential figures in the party, it was Davutoglu who was first chosen as the party’s leader and then as Turkey’s prime minister through Erdogan’s direct support.
On the other hand, Davutoglu as senior advisor to president and foreign minister was not considered a serious option for rivalry against Erdogan in the country’s domestic politics and was mostly known in the foreign policy field, which only made him an affiliate of Erdogan as the head of state. However, as prime minister, Davutoglu found himself at the highest level of Turkey’s executive branch according to the constitution, but in practice, he was still overshadowed by Erdogan and was only seen as a titular official. Despite the shift in their roles, Erdogan expected Davutoglu to play his past role and considered any change in his behavior, even any silence or dawdling by the prime minister on any issue as a form of rivalry and this was a situation which made Erdogan distrustful of Davutoglu. This distrust had grown so deep that some party allies of Erdogan even tried to accuse Davutoglu of treason against president.
Although Davutoglu’s resignation took place without much hype and serious challenge, it will have consequences for Turkey’s both domestic and foreign policies. This is true especially under current conditions when Turkey is witnessing parliamentary tensions over a bill proposing to strip lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity. The country is also grappling with other kinds of tensions as a result of the ongoing war with Kurdish militants, increasing security threats as a consequence of terrorist attacks by Daesh within and without its borders, presence of over 2.7 million Syrian refugees on its soil, and the implementation of an agreement with the European Union to curb flow of refugees to Europe.
Inside the country, the most important issue is that after resignation of Davutoglu and appointment of a person close to Erdogan as prime minister, efforts will be heightened to change the country’s parliamentary system to a presidential system, which is the most important goal pursued by Erdogan. An evidence to the point is Erdogan’s remarks one day after Davutoglu’s resignation on May 6 when he said “the existing parliamentary system is cause of crisis. Therefore, a presidential system will be offered to people to endorse it.” These remarks clearly reflected Erdogan’s main concern about the existing conditions in the country. As for Turkey’s policies toward Kurds, it seems that after Davutoglu is removed from decision-making structure, Erdogan will mount pressure on lawmakers from the Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkish parliament and continue the war on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and this situation will possibly continue in short term, especially before the time for next election gets close.
In the area of foreign policy, the most important issue under current conditions is the future outlook of the agreement signed by Turkey and the European Union over the flow of refugees to Europe, which has come to be known as Davutoglu’s project. Therefore, now that Davutoglu has left this game, the next prime minister is expected to take the initiative in this regard. What is more noticeable with regard to this issue is the non-European approach taken by Erdogan as compared to Europe-oriented approach of Davutoglu. As a result, when faced with pressures mounted by European countries on Ankara to make more amendments to its anti-terror law, Erdogan told Europe in a statement, “We’ll go our way, you go yours.” Since European countries need Turkey in their handling of the sweeping wave of refugees, this situation has put them in a difficult situation for curbing the influx of asylum seekers. Therefore, European political officials are expected to adopt a more lenient policy toward Ankara in order to protect themselves in the face of the ongoing influx of refugees.
On the whole, one may claim that resignation of Davutoglu from chairmanship of the Justice and Development Party and the prime minister’s post has been a result of the existence of important, but covert, differences that have emerged between Turkey’s two top politicians. These differences had gradually grown since Davutoglu became prime minister in 2014. This situation caused Erdogan to lose trust in his former ally and see him as a serious rival raised by himself. As a result, he tried to scuttle Davutoglu’s power for choosing party officials, thus stripping him of the executive power he had within the Justice and Development Party. Davutoglu was quick to receive the message of this measure and before facing more accusations from his own party, decided to cede power in a peaceful manner. His behavior will lead to establishment of Erdogan’s full control inside the country while in the area of foreign policy it will show a less resilient Turkey to the world.
* Rahmat Hajimineh is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at Islamic Azad University; Tehran
Researcher at the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies