August 25, 2014

Will Davutoğlu play the role of puppet PM?

Şahin Alpay

President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, unsurprisingly, nominated Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu for Justice and Development Party (AKP) chief and prime minister, to replace him in the coming party congress to be held on Aug. 27, just one day before he replaces Abdullah Gül as president. What is taking place in the leadership of the AKP was best explained by deputy Haluk Özdalga, who resigned from the AKP a few months ago.

Özdalga commented that if things were allowed to run their natural course, Gül would be elected party chief and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç would assume the Prime Ministry. And following the next general election in June, the party and government leadership would be formed in line with the election results. Through a series of manipulations by Erdoğan, however, Gül and Arınç were sidelined and his choice of Davutoğlu remained the only candidate. Özdalga underlined that a political party which is not allowed to function freely and is controlled from the outside is bound to run into problems and will be unable to maintain its vitality, as examples from recent Turkish political history have shown.

Loyalty has surely played a larger role than merit in Davutoğlu's nomination. This was quite openly expressed by Erdoğan: “The determination he has shown in the fight against the ‘parallel structure' [meaning Hizmet, the faith-based social movement inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen] played a significant role in his nomination.” And Davutoğlu was quick in giving the expected response: “Whoever tries to stop our onward march, whether going by the name of ‘parallel structure' or any other name, will be confronted with the cadre of the AKP.” A professor of international relations, Davutoğlu, likely to be Turkey's next prime minister, may be said to have had two periods in his performance as chief foreign policy adviser to the prime minister between 2002 and 2009, and as foreign minister since then.

The “zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy paradigm he designed served Turkey's security and economic interests extremely well until the outbreak of the Arab Spring. The policy of supporting peoples' revolutions with the assumption that they will succeed, however, has dragged Turkey into great difficulties in the region, particularly in Syria, Egypt and now Iraq. Davutoğlu has proved to be not so well-informed about the realities of the region as he claimed to be. Davutoğlu's loyalty to Erdoğan hinges on the fact that the latter has stood behind him and shared responsibility for the mounting difficulties faced in foreign policy. Davutoğlu has paid him back by taking a strong stance against Hizmet, whose affiliates in the police and judiciary Erdoğan, with no proof whatsoever, blames for the grave corruption probe that implicates his government and family members and himself personally.

It is unthinkable that Davutoğlu is not aware of the great contributions Hizmet has made to Turkey's soft power through schools and businesses that have spread out to more than 120 countries. Both Erdoğan and Davutoğlu were surely well aware of this when the former decided to cover up the grave corruption probe by claiming that it was a conspiracy to topple him designed by the Western powers and Israel and put in practice by Hizmet.

We now know who will replace Erdoğan as prime minister. Now, the question is whether Davutoğlu will assume the role of a puppet prime minister who behaves according to the instructions of Erdoğan, who -- against the Constitution -- promises to behave as president, prime minister and party chief at the same time, at least until he manages to introduce a form of presidential system. Many tend to think that Davutoğlu is ready to assume such a role in appreciation of Erdoğan's continued support despite all the grave foreign policy failures since 2011. I doubt, however, if Erdoğan himself knows for sure the answer to the question as to whether Davutoğlu will play the puppet role properly. I suspect he will wait and see, and if Davutoğlu does not display the loyalty he expects, he may well turn to another name. Many speculate that his next choice may well be intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, one of his closest aides.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 24 August 2014, Sunday