In the wake of the AKP’s stunning loss in the Turkish elections on Sunday, Prime Minister Ahmet Dagutoglu—nominally the head of government but often seen as de facto subordinated to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan—has fired a warning shot over Erdogan’s bow. The Daily Hurriyet reports:
In his first comprehensive statement after the June 7 general election, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has stressed that the Turkish people have closed the door on the presidential system and called for parties to form a coalition government. He added that he has no red lines on such a partnership and will hold “genuine talks” with other parties to this end. […]
He also said the presidential position should not be turned into a subject of discussion. He called on opposition leaders to “ignore the president” as “launching debates about [the presidency] would only increase uncertainty.”
However, Davutoğlu also issued an indirect message to the president. “The position our president occupies has a trouble-shooter nature. It’s the president who will give the mandate … As the system has not changed, everything should fall into place. A culture of compromise could be brought about if everybody fulfills their own duties within the frame of their powers and responsibilities,” he said.
Rumors have abounded throughout the spring of a rift between Davutoglu and Erdogan—not entirely surprisingly, as Erdogan’s open ambition was to neuter Davutoglu’s position. Erdogan has long been reckoned to have the upper hand: he’s a much more charismatic politician, a more popular figure, and the leader who put his party on the map. But the elections may have changed all that; separately but relatedly, Davutoglu may at least think so.
Such comments, though, should in fairness be taken with a certain amount of caution. Stephen A. Cook, Svante E. Cornell, and Henri Barkey have all dissected the Turkish election results in our pages during the last few days, and one thing that has become clear is just how unsettled everything is in country right now. Depending on the composition of the new government—still very much up for debate—this period could look like anything from the end of Erdogan to a bit of momentary unpleasantness. Furthermore, Davutoglu-Erdogan dynamics have not always been as straightforward as outsiders might think. Westerners fooled themselves into thinking there was a real Medvedev-Putin split in Russia a few years ago; we should be wary of declaring the (in this case, incipient) strongman out of the picture until he truly is.
Nevertheless, such a direct public announcement is truly noteworthy. If the decisions ahead are not merely inter-party but intra-party in Turkey—particularly in the AKP—then even more factors are in play than the already complicated electoral results suggest at first glance.