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The Evolution of Erdogan
Erdogan in Charge

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu resigned Thursday after losing a power struggle with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The move may have serious repercussions for the Turkish-EU refugee deal, as well as on Turkey’s internal order. The Financial Times reports:

Handpicked as his successor when Mr Erdogan ascended to the presidency in 2014, Mr Davutoglu had long chafed under Mr Erdogan’s refusal to be a ceremonial president, even as he publicly supported plans for a referendum to strengthen the office of the president. The soft-spoken Mr Davutoglu eventually proved incapable of outmanoeuvring Mr Erdogan’s supporters in both the media and parliament.

The decision to remove himself from running as leader of the AK party, which Mr Erdogan co-founded before winning three successive terms as prime minister, came after a day of pointed barbs and shuttle diplomacy between Mr Davutoglu’s team and the presidential palace. […]

Mr Davutoglu told advisers that he planned to appeal to Mr Erdogan to respect the constitutional powers he held, in exchange for renewed support for a referendum this year on increasing the president’s powers, according to a person familiar with the matter.

That didn’t work, and now he’s out of a job. The Turkish Constitution theoretically holds that the President is a non-partisan, ceremonial figurehead, while the Prime Minister is the head of government, but anyone who has been watching should not have been surprised by this. Erdogan still controls the AKP; he made Davutoglu, and he could unmake him just as easily. Reports indicate that the potential heirs to Davutoglu’s job are all Erdogan cronies. One prominent candidate is Erdogan’s son-in-law.

As the FT points out, Davutoglu had been instrumental in negotiating the Turkey-EU refugee deal, and was seen as in many European capitals as a moderating influence on Erdogan. (As Erdogan grew increasingly powerful, this was starting to take on shades of similar wishful thinking vis-a-vis Medvedev and Putin.) Already, Erdogan has signaled a change of tone. In a “fiery” speech Friday, he made it clear he would not give up any powers he has accrued to please European opinion or keep Davutoglu’s achievements intact:

The EU asked member states on Wednesday to grant visa-free travel to Turks in return for Ankara stopping migrants reaching Europe, but said Turkey still had to change some legislation, including bringing its terrorism laws in line with EU standards.

“When Turkey is under attack from terrorist organizations and the powers that support them directly, or indirectly, the EU is telling us to change the law on terrorism,” Erdogan said in a speech at the opening of a local government office in the conservative Istanbul district of Eyup.

“They say ‘I am going to abolish visas and this is the condition.’ I’m sorry, we’re going our way, you go yours. Agree with whoever you can agree,” he said.

Erdogan, as we’ve written, has Europe by a major pressure-point on the refugee front. He seems to suspect—probably rightly—that they will swallow quite a lot of dictatorial behavior rather than risk abrogating the deal.

But however discomfited certain European chanceries may be, we hope that TAI readers at least are not surprised. As CFR fellow Steven Cook wrote in an incisive column for us during the fall, despite a constant search both in Turkey and abroad for white knights to defeat Erdoganism, the President reigned supreme:

It seems to have dawned on some among the AKP elite that for all of his political talents and his achievements, Erdogan is becoming a problem. That what is good for the Buyuk Usta—or “Great Master” as the fawning press refers to the President—may not be good for Turkey or their own interests after all. Bullying the country’s central bankers, locking up journalists, undermining checks and balances (never that strong to begin with), and destroying relationships with important countries may have political benefits at home, but it is not cost free. As Arinc is reported to have remarked, “half the country hates us.” Leaders cannot get great things done when their society is polarized, and in Turkey Erdogan is the primary reason why Turks are so divided. People like Arinc and Davutoglu are also apparently coming to the realization that while they and the AKP more broadly have enabled Erdogan, he and his style of governance is not necessarily good for their own careers.

The effort to cut the President down to size has failed miserably. Erdogan has defeated every effort to get around him, revealing Davutoglu’s ambitions to be far greater than his political skills. And while it is unclear that AKP can win the 367-seat majority necessary to avoid a referendum on a new constitution, never count Erdogan out. There is no one in Turkey who is as charismatic as Erdogan; he has a broad network of supporters in virtually every corner of Anatolia and unrivaled sources of patronage. Expect him to use all three attributes to his advantage in the next eight weeks. He is also paranoid and desperate—two positive traits in politicians. Short of digging Ataturk up from the dead, no one can touch Erdogan. That’s why, whether he likes it or not, Davutoglu may soon be out of a job.

And now he is, and now the world may see what an even-more untrammeled Erdogan looks like. Nothing good, for the Turks more than anyone else, we suspect.

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  • Blackbeard

    It has been obvious for years that Erdogan was intent on turning Turkey into an Islamic dictatorship with him as president for life. All that time Obama cheered him on, the Europeans stood by helplessly and the western media thought he was a hero for defanging the army. Another good example for the history books that will be written about Obama’s incompetent foreign policy.

    • Rick Caird

      I expect Erdogan is more interested in a dictatorship than in Islam. Islam is merely the excuse.

      • Attila_the_hun

        one of the same

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