ISTANBUL / ANKARA: Ahmet Davutoglu announced on Thursday that he was stepping down as leader of Turkey’s ruling AK Party and therefore as prime minister, bowing to President Tayyip Erdogan’s drive to create a powerful executive presidency.
In a speech defending his record but also vowing loyalty to Erdogan, Davutoglu said he had kept his party and the government intact during a tumultuous period and pledged that the “strong” AKP government would continue.
After a leadership meeting of the party founded and dominated by Erdogan, Davutoglu told reporters that, under the current circumstances, he would not run again for leader at an extraordinary party congress on May 22.
“I am telling our members, up until today I was leading you. From now on, I am among you,” he said. Davutoglu’s departure plunges the Nato member into political uncertainty just as Europe needs its help in curbing a migration crisis and Washington needs support in fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
There could now be a third parliamentary election in less than 18 months. Davutoglu’s departure follows weeks of tensions with Erdogan. His successor is likely to be significantly more willing to back Erdogan’s aim of changing the constitution to create a presidential system, a move that opponents say will bring growing authoritarianism. “Palace Coup!” said the headline in the secularist opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper. “From now on, Turkey’s sole agenda is the presidential system and an early election,” said Mehmet Ali Kulat, head of the pollster Mak Danismanlik, which is seen as close to Erdogan.
He forecast an election in October or November. Erdogan sees rule by the head of state as a guarantee against the fractious coalition politics that hampered the government in the 1990s. His opponents say he is merely furthering his own ambition.
“These are critical developments in my mind in Turkey – likely setting the long-term direction of the country, both in terms of democracy, but (also) economic and social policy and geopolitical orientation,” said Timothy Ash, strategist at Nomura and a veteran Turkey watcher.
“Turkey changes as a result to an Asiatic model of development, with strong central control from the presidency, and most key decisions taken by the president and a small group of likely unelected advisers.”
Davutoglu said the fact that his mandate had been cut short was “not my choice but a result of necessity”.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2016.