Whatever the wayward Ahmet Davutoglu might have said or done, his former boss, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had no shadow of a doubt that his former prime minister and acolyte would come to his senses and apologise. The alternative was excommunication from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the steps towards which had already been set in motion in the form of a summons to a disciplinary board. But the former prime minister and architect of Turkey’s unimplemented “zero problems” foreign policy pre-empted the action with his resignation.
Davutoglu, in a press conference 13 September, explained that when he received the summons, he felt both deeply saddened and embarrassed for the party. This “political text”, which “was prepared with the utmost carelessness”, was the latest demonstration that “the AKP, which has fallen under the control of a small clique, is no longer capable of serving as a solution to this country’s problems.” The party has departed from its founding principles, turns a deaf ear to criticism and advice, and is no longer capable of change, he said.
Several months ago, Davutoglu announced plans to form a new political party. He reiterated this on Friday. “It is our historic responsibility to establish a new political movement. We invite everyone with a sense of responsibility for this country, regardless of their political outlook, to work together with us in this framework.” Standing alongside him at the press conference were six former AKP parliamentary representatives who had also tendered their resignations that day (Ayhan Sefer Üstün, Selçuk Özdağ, Abdullah Başçı, Nedim Yamalı, Selim Temurci and Feramuz Üstün).
Davutoglu had begun to show signs of willfulness and insubordination some time ago. Following the 7 June 2015 general elections, the first in which the AKP failed to win a majority, Davutoglu, who was still serving as prime minister at the time, said that the results reflected general opposition to the presidential system. The remark did not go over well with Erdogan who had been actively campaigning for the conversion to a “Turkish-style” presidential system at the time.
Davutoglu, who succeeded Erdogan as prime minister in August 2014 after Erdogan became president, and who had simultaneously been elected, unopposed, as the AKP’s leader that month, stepped down as prime minister in May 2016. At the time, he had made it clear that he refused to act as a “puppet” prime minister. He made this explicit in a recent television interview, on 18 July 2019, in which he said that Erdogan, at the time, told him, “just look and act like a prime minister, but don’t use the [prime ministerial] authorities.” But, Davutoglu said, it was “not in his nature” to be a “low profile” prime minister. Under the former parliamentary system, it was the prime minister who steered the ship of state while the president was to be more of a figurehead.
More significantly, Davutoglu, in the television interview, stressed that he had to be removed as prime minister in order to clear the way for “scenarios” such as the 15 July 2016 coup attempt, a succession of electoral processes and the transition from the parliamentary system to a presidential system “totally stripped of its essence”, the result of all of which was to force Turkey into “secret/public coalitions”.
Davutoglu, in the interview, echoed an observation made by the veteran journalist and editor-in-chief of the Haberdar news site, Said Sefa, exactly two years earlier. One day, when it is possible to speak freely about the 15 July coup and learn that it was a “controlled coup”, Davutoglu’s dismissal as prime minister will be seen as the date when that coup was born, he tweeted on 18 July 2017. “Davutoglu would never have approved a plan for a controlled coup, so some precaution had to be taken before he learned about it one way or the other. For a thing like 15 July, they needed someone like Binali Yildirim, who wouldn’t be let in on it and who wouldn’t have a problem with that afterwards.”
Davutoglu was hardly the first prominent Turkish figure to part ways with the ruling party and its leader. In addition to the six MPs who resigned together with him, the former justice minister, Sadullah Ergin, and the former interior minister, Beşir Atalay, tendered their resignations from the AKP at the same time that five generals resigned from the army earlier this month. Prior to that came the resounding resignation of Ali Babacan, former deputy prime minister who is close to former Turkish president Abdullah Gul.
The rifts and schisms in the ruling party have sent fissures through all institutions of the state, including the army. They are also eroding the party’s structures and support bases in such former strongholds as the provinces of Konya (from where Davutoglu hails), Kayseri, Denizli and Gaziantep (the once powerful industrial base that is now on the brink of collapse). In a desperate attempt to stop the crisis and intimidate others who might be induced to abandon the AKP’s sinking ship and join either Davutoglu’s or Babacan’s new party, Erdogan lashed out, singly and collectively, at Davutoglu, Babacan, Gul and other former companions of the road as “traitors” who “will pay a heavy price!”
Clearly, there must come a breaking point. Ergun Babahan of the AhvalNews site predicts that the AKP will encounter a fate similar to the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) which was forced to dissolve itself in 1918. However, for this to happen, the opposition must remain united and re-establish a strong and balanced parliamentary system. Babahan believes current conditions in Turkey are favourable to such actions now that the “Turkish-style” presidential system has driven the country to bankruptcy on all fronts: the economy, the rule of law, human rights, the environment and the status of women. He added that parties such as the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Kurdish rights-oriented People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the IYI (Good) Party and the Islamist-oriented Felicity Party (SP) “form an integral part of the parliamentary system”. The movements founded by Babacan and Davutoglu “have the potential to reinforce this group” and help bring “a speedy end to Erdogan’s rule”.
Naturally, Erdogan will fight the trend. Towards this end, he will continue to strengthen his party’s alliance with the far-right National Movement Party (MHP). However, observers have noticed cracks in this relationship, too, especially since the AKP’s defeat in the reruns of the Istanbul metropolitan mayoral elections. A meeting between Erdogan and MHP leader Devlet Bahceli a week ago on Wednesday lasted barely half an hour with no statements issued afterwards.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.