On 22 May, the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) in Turkey will hold an extraordinary congress to choose a new party leader who will become the next Turkish prime minister.
Ahmet Davutoğlu, who served as prime minister since August 2014, recently resigned, leaving the position open and up for grabs. Despite achieving a landslide victory in parliamentary elections last November, Davutoğlu gave a farewell speech last week. “It is not my wish, but it is a necessity,” he said.
It appeared that a conflict between him and the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had reached a critical limit. The latter was very clear that he does not want an independent prime minister.
“Erdoğan made Davutoğlu … He appointed him as his adviser, and then his foreign minister, before making him a prime minister,” said Cengiz Aktar, a professor of political science at Istanbul University. “Davutoğlu started to develop his own ideas without consulting Erdoğan who thought that his prime minister was beginning to exceed his role of authority.”
For the past few months, Davutoğlu was the leader of negotiations with the EU over the refugee crisis and a visa-free system for Turks. Following Davutoğlu’s decision to step down from his post, Erdoğan said Turkey would not change its anti-terror laws in return for visa-free travel to and inside Europe.
“It seems Erdoğan was not very happy with the popularity that Davutoğlu gained while leading the visa negotiations,” said Emre Caliskan, a Turkish PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Oxford. “Erdoğan would prefer to have a weak prime minister who takes instruction from him.”
The first point of conflict between the two men was when Davutoğlu proposed a law at the beginning of his premiership to tackle corruption following the 2013 corruption scandal involving AKP members. Davutoğlu also had a different policy in dealing with the Kurdish issue, which Erdoğan considered too lenient.
Their conflict reached a critical point when Davutoğlu seemed to intimate that Erdoğan’s push for a new constitution would put all the power in the hands of the president. However, he never challenged Erdoğan about this issue.
On 1 May, a post was published on a blog called Pelican Brief by an anonymous author who leaked documents suggesting that Davutoğlu is betraying Erdoğan.
The author referred to Erdoğan as “the Chief” which shows how supportive he or she is of the president. However, the timing of this blog’s creation may suggest that it is an attempt from Erdoğan’s wing to topple Davutoğlu.
Caliskan believes without a doubt that Erdoğan is now in complete control of his party. “Before the 7 June election, AKP faced a row between the old and new generations of the party’s members. Some party members were concerned about Erdoğan’s increasing power. But today, Erdoğan has successfully sidelined almost all of the AKP’s founders, including Bulent Arinc, Abdullah Gul, and Cemil Cicek,” said Caliskan.
AKP officials said that only one candidate will be presented to the next congress in order to prevent a division.
“The party has been completely run by Erdoğan since 2010,” said Aktar.
The Turkish president seems to be in full control, not only of his party, but also of the mainstream media in the country. In 2008, Çalık Holding company acquired Sabah newspaper, turning it to the biggest pro-AKP newspaper. The CEO of the company at the time was Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in-law and the current minister of energy.
“It is unlikely that we will see any challenge to the leadership within the AKP at this time. Erdoğan has the full power to appoint party officials at a national and local level. Erdoğan continues to fully control Turkish mainstream media. Even the former deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc said publicly that he was blocked from speaking on some Turkish TV channels,” said Caliskan.
Given the current context it is unlikely that Erdoğan’s leadership will be challenged by any individual or group from the new or old generation of AKP members.
However, Caliskan believes that other issues may be a challenge for the Turkish president. “It is worth noting that issues such as the deterioration of the Turkish economy, the Kurdish question, and Erdoğan’s insistence on a new constitution might challenge the president’s authority,” Caliskan added.
For the past few years, Turkish policies in Syria were criticised by several international players. Erdoğan is accused of supporting extremism in Syria by Russia. After the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) defeated the Islamic State (IS) and gained control of several locations on the Syrian-Turkish border, Ankara started to worry. Whether these policies were Erdoğan’s or Davutoğlu’s, analysts believe that the latter’s leaving is unlikely to change anything.
“Erdoğan and Davutoğlu have clashed over a number of important issues, but have demonstrated unity in relation to Syrian foreign policy. However, Erdoğan is more hawkish than Davutoğlu, especially on the Kurdish question. Davutoğlu suggested that he was willing to return to peace negotiations with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its leader Abdullah Öcalan, but Erdoğan publicly opposed the idea. It is probable that Turkey will increase its opposition to the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is considered to be the Syrian wing of the PKK,” Caliskan said.
Aktar believes that despite Davutoğlu having an influence on Erdoğan in some foreign policy issues, those policies were made in the presidential palace. “And the policies collapsed anyway,” Aktar said.
The next important challenge for Erdoğan is the battle of changing the constitution. The Turkish president needs 330 members to vote for the constitution to change, but his party only has 317 at the moment. This means that the new constitution needs to be accepted by other opposition parties in order for it to come into power.
Caliskan believes that changing the constitution is perhaps Erdoğan’s toughest issue at this time. “Davutoğlu’s decision to step down as prime minter can be interpreted as the consequence of Erdoğan exerting his aspiration to change the Turkish constitution,” Caliskan said. “Erdoğan is without a doubt Turkey’s most powerful politician; however, the real question is whether his power is strong enough to change the constitution.”
The most prominent challenges for both Erdoğan and Turkey is the Kurdish problem, regional instability, and Syrian refugees. “Given the severity of these issues, if Erdoğan continues to press for constitutional change there may be serious repercussions for Turkey’s national security,” Caliskan said.
The constitution change is what will probably decide the future of Turkey rather than who is the next prime minister. The expected candidates are all believed to be close to Erdoğan, including the Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim, Justice inister Bekir Bozdag, and Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak. “By getting rid of Davutoğlu, Erdoğan killed the position of the prime minister … so the next person will know now that he must remain obedient,” Aktar concluded.