Turkey moves towards presidential system
ISTANBUL - Turkey has switched its system of government from a parliamentary to a de facto presidential one with the ousting of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, observers say.
Davutoglu, 57, who has led the government as well as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) for nearly two years, rose to the top thanks to support from Erdogan, 62, who has remained the party’s and government’s highest authority despite moving on to the nominally non-partisan presidency in 2014.
However, after growing tensions between the two leaders, the AKP will elect a new chairman May 22nd at an emergency party congress. Davutoglu will not be a candidate, effectively ending his tenure as prime minister as well. Analysts say Erdogan will hand-pick the next leader.
“As of today, Turkey has de facto changed to a presidential system,” columnist Murat Yetkin wrote in the Hurriyet newspaper. “As long as Erdogan is president, it will not be important who the prime minister is.”
Davutoglu’s fall came only half a year after he led the AKP to a landslide win in parliamentary elections. He is set to lose his post as prime minister despite a solid AKP legislative majority, a fact that shows that real power no longer rests with parliament but with Erdogan, who was elected president in 2014.
“If there is a directly elected president, the prime minister is retreating to the back stage a little,” Aydin Unal, a former speech-writer for Erdogan, told a television programme.
Two recent incidents fanned a growing divide between Erdogan and Davutoglu. In the first, Erdogan played down the significance of a development that could become a key political victory for Davutoglu.
In return for Turkey’s cooperation in stemming the European refugee crisis, the European Union has opened the way to lift visa requirements for Turks visiting Europe’s Schengen area, fulfilling a long-standing demand by Ankara. Initially planned for the second half of the year, the lifting of visa requirements could happen in June, after lobbying by Davutoglu.
Erdogan recently said that he had laid the groundwork for the visa waiver during his tenure as prime minister. He dismissed the early implementation as a mere detail.
“I am sorry to see that this kind of detail is being presented as a big achievement,” the president said in what was widely seen as a stab at Davutoglu, who has been saying the visa lifting in June would be a breakthrough for Turkey.
The second incident occurred when the AKP leadership decided to cancel one of Davutoglu’s key powers as party leader. The AKP’s 50-member Central Decision and Executive Board (MKYK) said the party leader no longer had the right to appoint the heads of the party in provinces and districts around the country.
Commentators said that, by taking that right away from Davutoglu, AKP officials loyal to Erdogan had limited the chance of the prime minister to build his own power base within the party. An anonymous blog post called Pelican Brief called for Davutoglu’s dismissal. Some reports say the blog was written by a pro-Erdogan journalist and the removal of Davutoglu has become known as the “Pelican Coup”.
Erdogan fuelled speculation about the political fate of his prime minister when he said in a May 4th speech that elected officials should “not forget how you got to your current post, what you have to do in your position and what your aims are”, in remarks seen by Turkish media as a reference to Davutoglu’s career under Erdogan’s patronage.
One source of friction between Erdogan and Davutoglu is said to be Erdogan’s plan to change Turkey’s system of government from a parliamentary system into a US-style presidential one. Davutoglu has said repeatedly that he backs the plan and that there are no differences between him and the president but the prime minister displayed a marked lack of enthusiasm to implement the system change, a position that led observers to conclude he was hampering a shift that would undercut his own political position.
Davutoglu was quoted as saying that there was no rush to create the presidential system, while Erdogan has been calling for a change as early as possible. Davutoglu also stressed that a new era had begun when he took over the reins in the AKP from Erdogan in 2014. Erdogan was the party’s “legendary leader”, while he himself was the “new leader”, Davutoglu said in February.
Observers say Erdogan decided that he could not go on with Davutoglu. “The Great Leader demands a hundred percent obedient PM,” Mustafa Akyol, an author specialising in political Islam, wrote on Twitter.
News reports have speculated that Erdogan could replace Davutoglu with Binali Yildirim, the Transportation minister and a close aide to the president. Journalist Levent Gultekin told the Mediascope Internet television platform that Erdogan was unsure whether to put Yildirim or install his own son in-law Berat Albayrak, the Energy minister, in his place. He said Albayrak was being groomed as an Erdogan successor in the pro-government media.