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Turkey PM to step down as Erdogan tightens grip

Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was reportedly to quit his jobs of ruling party chief and head of government in a dramatic turn of events on Thursday.

world Updated: May 05, 2016 19:36 IST
AFP
File photo of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who is set to quit following differences with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
File photo of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who is set to quit following differences with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.(AFP)

Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was reportedly to quit his jobs of ruling party chief and head of government in a dramatic turn of events on Thursday that were set to boost President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s power.

Divisions between Davutoglu and Erdogan that had been rumoured for months erupted into the open on Wednesday, with the two leaders holding crisis talks at the presidential palace that failed to resolve the conflict.

The central executive committee of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) met on Thursday morning and agreed to convene an extraordinary party congress later this month, the NTV and CNN-Turk channels reported.

Davutoglu will not be a candidate for the party chairmanship at the congress, meaning he will step down from both the posts of premier and party chief, the reports added.

According to the conventions of the AKP – a party co-founded by Erdogan to bring Islam into the mainstream of Turkey’s secular politics – the party chairman and head of government are the same person.

Davutoglu, who became premier in August 2014 when Erdogan moved from the premiership to the presidency, will make a highly-anticipated press statement after the meeting of the party committee, the official Anatolia news agency reported.

A planned visit this week by the premier to Bosnia has already been cancelled, media reports said.

‘Palace coup’

“Davutoglu steps aside,” said the headline in the Hurriyet daily. “A new era in the AKP,” added the Milliyet newspaper.

“Palace Coup,” headlined the opposition Cumhuriyet daily. “The summit meeting did not find a solution and Erdogan put a full stop,” it added.

The possibility of tumult at the top of Turkish politics unnerved financial markets, losing almost 4% in value against the dollar on Wednesday and rallying only slightly Thursday.

The appointment of a potentially more pliant prime minister would allow Erdogan to further consolidate his powers as he seeks to win backing for controversial constitutional changes to make Turkey a presidential system.

Since becoming president in August 2014 after over a decade as prime minister, Erdogan has sought to tighten his grip on the levers of power, leading critics to accuse him of authoritarianism.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute, said the move was the next stage in a “hollowing out” of Turkish institutions by Erdogan who already controls the army and parliament.

“It shows how much power has been massed in one person’s hands,” he told AFP, adding Erdogan was now exercising more control than anyone in Turkey’s modern democratic history.

The departure of Davutoglu “will allow Erdogan to distance himself from some of his failed policies that can be attributed to Davutoglu”, he added.

Leading potential successors if Davutoglu steps aside include the president’s longtime henchman, transport minister Binali Yildirim, and the youthful energy minister Berat Albayrak, 38, who is married to the president’s eldest daughter Esra.

But press reports also suggested a less high-profile figure was possible, such as deputy prime minister Yalcin Akdogan, justice minister Bekir Bozdag, or AKP deputy chairman Mehmet Ali Sahin.

“Whoever the new PM will be, it is clear that it will mean more power over the government by the president,” said Ozgur Altug, chief economist at BGC partners in Istanbul.

‘Presidential system begins’

Relations between Erdogan and Davutoglu had been seen by analysts as uneasy, but the speed with which it burst into the open took many by surprise.

The premier has championed a deal with the EU to stem the flow of refugees across the Aegean Sea – an issue in which the president has shown little interest.

On Wednesday, the EU Commission announced it was recommending giving Turks visa-free travel as part of the deal, one of Ankara’s key demands.

Davutoglu has said there is no need for haste in Erdogan’s drive to create a presidential system in Turkey, a pet project of the president that risks diminishing Davutoglu’s own standing.

He has also clashed with Erdogan over whether journalists should be held in pre-trial detention.

A decision last week by the executive committee of the AKP to remove Davutoglu’s right to appoint regional party officials was seen by commentators as a severe blow to the premier’s authority.

If Davutoglu quits, it would mean that Turkey is heading for a change of premier at a time when Ankara is battling Kurdish and Islamist militants as well as trying to implement its end of the EU migrant deal.

“Turkish politics is entering into a period where the presidential system has de-facto started,” said Fuat Keyman, director of the Istanbul Policy Center think tank.

“Whoever becomes the new leader of the AKP and premier will have to accept the new nature of the system.”