- REUTERS/Harun Ukar
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu resigned from his position on Thursday as tensions with the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reached a tipping point over a new constitution that would alter the country’s political system.
“The early termination of my four-year term is not my choice, but the result of necessity,” Davutoglu, who previously served as Turkey’s minister of foreign affairs from 2009 to 2014, said in his resignation speech Thursday.
Many analysts have perceived that admission as confirmation of the political and ideological battle that has been brewing in the upper ranks of the dominant Justice and Development Party, or AKP, since Davutoglu succeeded Erdogan as the party’s leader in August 2014.
“This fight has been brewing for some time,” Steven Cook, a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Business Insider on Thursday. “Erdogan has been looking for a way to push Davutoglu aside.”
Davutoglu’s “ambivalence” about a proposed change to Turkey’s constitution that would “formalize the powerful role of the president that Erdogan has forged” contributed significantly to the tension that ultimately forced Davutoglu’s hand, Cook said.
He added: “I don’t recall an episode like this before, though of course there were four coups in Turkey. This is significantly different, however.”
Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, put it bluntly: “Never before in this system has one person amassed so much power in his hands as Erdogan has,” Cagaptay told The Washington Poston Thursday.
If he continues down this path, Cagaptay said,”it will render the country so brittle politically that when Erdogan leaves office one day, there will be nearly no institutions left standing to keep the country together.”
- Thomson Reuters
Aaron Stein, an expert on Turkey and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said the executive presidential system Erdogan had been pushing for since he ascended to the presidency in 2014 was “not comparable to anything in the West.”
“It is an entirely unique document,” Stein told Business Insider on Thursday. “It envisions having a unitary system of government, like the UK, but with a presidential system and a unicameral legislature. So you’ll have a rubber stamp parliament with a very strong executive that will then delegate out to the various provinces.”
Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Erdogan had shown he was “willing to spurn even his closest of AKP allies” in the name of amending the constitution and strengthening his executive authority.
“We don’t yet fully understand all of the factors leading to this crisis,” Schanzer told Business Insider on Thursday. “But it is clear that Erdogan is tightening his grip on absolute power.”
‘A dangerous time to be in the opposition’
Experts say Davutoglu’s exit as Erdogan attempts to strengthen his presidential powers represent a new challenge to Turkey’s relationship with the European Union and the US, each of which has condemned the president’s increasingly authoritarian treatment of journalists and members of the opposition.
“Davutoglu has been the cooperative, Western-oriented face of the government, particularly important in pushing through the refugees deal with the EU,” Ian Bremmer, president of the political-risk firm Eurasia Group, told Business Insider on Thursday.
Bremmer said that while Erdogan’s efforts to consolidate his power via a constitutional amendment would most likely come up short, his new government would be “all about personal loyalty to the president.”
“It’s going to be a dangerous time to be in the opposition,” he added.
- Osman Orsal/Reuters
Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former member of the Turkish parliament, largely agreed.
“Turkey has visibly turned into a one-man rule,” Erdemir told Business Insider on Thursday. “Erdogan dominates the whole playing field, and he is refusing the share power with anyone.”
But he cautioned that if Erdogan succeeds in expelling the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, from Turkey’s parliament – something he has been trying to accomplish since last year – he could obtain the supermajority he needs to “single-handedly” redesign the constitution.
“What’s coming to an end with Erdogan’s palace coup is not only Davutoglu’s abortive political career but also Turkey’s parliamentary democracy,” he said.
- Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Stein of the Atlantic Council acknowledged that “some of the checks and balances” in Turkey’s parliament would most likely be “negated” or outright “eroded” as a result of the new political system Erdogan is pushing for. He said, however, that power had always been largely concentrated within the AKP simply because it was the country’s dominant political party and the opposition was in “complete disarray.”
Schanzer, the FDD’s vice president, remained pessimistic.
“It is clear that the democratic political infrastructure in Turkey is now eroding alongside the eroding freedoms of the press, judiciary, and religion,” he told Business Insider. “Turkey is backsliding further and further away from the principles upon which it was founded.”