As its prime minister quits, Turkey nears abyss

Sunday 08/05/2016

Few were surprised when Ahmet Davuto­glu announced he was stepping down as Turkey’s prime minister after a meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

There is only one way of reading into their parting ways: Erdogan, pursuing a fully empowered presi­dential system, will not tolerate any political obstacle in his path, no matter how risky or costly it may be.

There is no doubt that he came to regard Davutoglu as an obstacle. After Erdogan was elected presi­dent in 2014, he carefully chose Davutoglu, who seemed to fit as a de facto caretaker prime minister to serve a policy that would clear the way for a change from a parliamen­tary system to one in which the executive powers were transferred to the presidential palace.

As time went by, however, Davutoglu shifted course, shap­ing discreetly a profile of his own. It appeared in recent months that the two men started to fall apart on major issues such as corruption, EU policies and the approach to the Kurdish issue. Davutoglu, in the eyes of an overly sensitive Erdogan, became a liability and faced the inevitable.

It goes far beyond simple po­litical wrestling. Behind the move lurks a clash between Erdogan’s seemingly unstoppable personal ambitions and what many observ­ers regard as the rudderless course that Turkey has charted because of them. Davutoglu pushed out of the way means that the country’s systemic crisis deepens.

To clear his path, Erdogan stretched the constitution to its limits, repeatedly breaching the “impartiality of presidency”. He rejected peace talks with the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), changed his political course to cement an alliance with the military and declared war on the media and all who dissent from his policies. His open interference with the affairs of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and forcing Davutoglu to resign, was the last straw.

By bringing about an extraordi­nary congress for the AKP, Erdogan made it clear he wants to remain the unchallenged leader who will not blink before any opposi­tion. He reasserts his will by not only controlling the party and the government but also parliament, state institutions and large swathes of the bureaucracy. Turkey stands very close to a historic power grab, which some concerned observers call a civilian coup.

The question is: What is next, if that happens? Will it be a long period of social unrest and political instability? Is Turkey facing a shift to a regime that will be defined as a theocratic, nationalist autocracy? And, how about its unresolved issues, such as Kurds and the Alevi minority and basic freedoms?

It is hard to foresee but this much is clear: If left unresolved, no major issue will cease to haunt Turkey and the deeper the crisis sinks, the more visible these issues become.

The Turkish paradox is that the state of crisis creates opportunities for Erdogan. As the Kurdish con­flict raised his popularity among the conservative, nationalist and secular-republican segments of so­ciety, another recent debate seems to have given him leeway to surf above religious emotions. Days before the Davutoglu affair there was a debate around an explosive topic: Whether the secularist tenet of the republic’s constitution has any future at all.

It was the Speaker of Parliament Ismail Kahraman, also from the AKP, who lit the fuse. In a state­ment he said: ”There should be no definition of secularism in the new constitution… Our constitu­tion should not evade the religious dimension. We are an Islamic na­tion and we should make a pious constitution.”

These words landed like a bomb­shell. The opposition called for the resignation of the speaker; people took to the streets, clashing with police.

There was, it appeared, reason for their concern. Inside stories made it clear that the AKP aimed for a new constitution, not only imposing a fully empowered presi­dential system but one that would put strong emphasis on Islam.

Put in this larger context of national turmoil, Davutoglu’s res­ignation understandably raises the concerns to a new level.