Turkish President Further Consolidates Power

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced his resignation on Thursday, May 6, 2016. Davutoglu’s resignation is the most recent in a string of concerted efforts by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to consolidate power in the Turkish presidency. Various internal and external factors, such as security threats from the PKK and ISIS, a refugee crisis from the Syrian civil war, and an increasingly complicated bid for European Union membership, have caused strain between the two heads of government.

Erdogan chose Davutoglu to serve as prime minister after he was elected to the presidency in 2014. Turkey’s constitution labels the prime minister as the most powerful government official, with the president acting as a ceremonial figure. Contrary to this model, it was widely expected that Prime Minister Davuto?lu would play a backseat role to President Erdogan, allowing him to wield the majority of power while grooming Davutoglu to serve as his successor. However, Davutoglu challenged Erdogan on a number of issues, and insisted that he never intended to be a caretaker prime minister. Davutoglu has long been opposed to Erdogan’s desire to rewrite the constitution to establish an executive presidency. Davutoglu has also expressed a willingness to end the Turkish offensive against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the West labels as a terrorist group. Erdogan fears an aggressive Kurdish movement and wishes to thwart any efforts towards an eventual Kurdish state on Turkey’s border. They also differ on monetary policy, with Davutoglu favoring an independent central bank, while Erdogan wants to intervene for lower interest rates.

Davutoglu’s departure is likely to bring about a marked change in Turkey’s relationship with its Western partners. When Erdogan first came to power in 2003 as the prime minister of Turkey, he was embraced by the West as a true Islamist reformer, who would show the world how Islam and democracy could coexist. In 2014 Erdogan transitioned into the presidency, naming Davutoglu as the new prime minister. However, from the beginning of his presidency there was no doubt that he intended to retain his former governmental powers. This retention of powers, combined with Erdogan’s disregard for democratic policies made the West increasingly wary of his presidency. Turkey’s NATO allies often favored Davutoglu over Erdogan, viewing him as a more moderate and reasonable negotiator. Erdogan has continued to flout western public opinion by cracking down on dissent, quashing protests and seizing independent newspapers.

The increased power of Erdogan’s presidency was reflected most strongly in Davutoglu’s parting words as prime minister, “No-one heard, or will ever hear, a single word from my mouth, from my tongue or my mind against our president.” President Erdogan is likely to replace Davutoglu with a prime minister who aligns himself more strongly with Erdogan’s autocratic goals.

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