“I do not expect [Ahmet] Davutoğlu to be subservient and approve of everything Erdoğan says.”
This is what Murat Belge, an esteemed liberal-leftist commentator and a prominent intellectual, told Today’s Zaman on Monday.
I am not that sure.
Before the emergence of Davutoğlu as a candidate I was asked about the prospects of Abdullah Gül being the next prime minister. Many wondered if an Erdoğan-Gül partnership would be the Turkish version of the Putin-Medvedev format.
My answer was a clear no.
From the very beginning of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) they represented two sides and two prospects for political Islam in Turkey. Gül engaged in a “one way road” with EU membership as the mortar-mix of democracy, while Erdoğan has used every possible means to concentrate power around himself.
Resentful of dissent, and in the later stages developing a severe allergy to collective decision making, his exposed ambition now is to reject inclusivity and instead follow the guidebook of populism by the letter, in order to place Turkey in the league of Central Asian states.
It is now an irony of history that Gül, who introduced Davutoğlu to active politics, is stepping aside and leaving him space to prove whether or not he will be able to “survive” with dignity in politics, under the dense shadow of Erdoğan.
While doing so, Gül the experienced politician knows that Erdoğan’s desperate survival agenda will define the course of politics, and Davutoğlu’s success, if any, will depend upon his skill in serving the will of the new president. If he succeeds, it will be Erdoğan’s success, since he will have been presented as the leader who made the right choice of successor.
If Davutoğlu fails — which is much more likely — he will be declared the scapegoat, giving Erdoğan a chance to stay on top of everything.
Despite the glamorous outlook, Erdoğan knows he is in trouble. He has to stick to raw populism in order to get at least 50 percent of the vote in the general elections next year. This is crucial for the AKP to reach a majority in Parliament and propose an amendment to the Constitution and make the presidential model “de jure.”
This is already a huge challenge which requires a stable economy, resilient enough to withstand waves of populism, a trademark of Erdoğan.
It does mean that Davutoğlu will be uncomfortably stuck between Erdoğan and his lackeys in the government at one side and whoever is in the cockpit of the economy – possibly Ali Babacan, and the central bank at the other.
Meanwhile, Erdoğan has to tighten his grip on the judiciary so that no further follow-up corruption investigations pose further threats. He is therefore focused on bringing the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) under full control, using the fight against “parallel structures” as a pretext.
The Supreme Court of Appeals and the Constitutional Court stand next in line for subordination, on a “to-do” list before the next elections.
What Davutoğlu will do when legal inquiries pop up in Parliament will reveal his true self, a devoted servant to the “master” or a politician keen to go down in history with dignity.
Davutoğlu has observed very closely how some people in the AKP, who called for justice, were demonized and silenced, so he may choose to be an active part of the problem. But if he follows the “master” he will risk losing whatever remains of his credibility.
What unites both men in failure is the foreign policy. Even the list of statesmen (almost none from the democratic world) who will be attending the “crowning ceremony” of Erdoğan reveals how big this failure is.
Davutoğlu initially had good intentions with the “zero problems with neighbors” policy, but Erdoğan ruined it with his endless hunt for votes.
There is no way Erdoğan, who now sees the next elections as the finalization of his “cause,” will abandon populism and his confrontational style. This will mean no friendly handshakes with key countries along the east Mediterranean, no normalization.
“Davutoğlu has no idea what kind of trap he has put himself into,” said a friend of mine. Maybe he wants to. He is a dreamer. He may begin testing whether or not a “zero problem presidency” will work at all.