To say that Turkey is passing through a sensitive juncture is a big understatement. A rekindled and bloody war with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the ever-present threat of the Islamic State (IS), millions of refugees from the Syrian civil war and a headache posed by growing Syrian Kurdish autonomy is underlined by political uncertainty.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) may have attained the majority it craves at the poll but only at the second time of asking with the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) breaking the 10% threshold to enter parliament on each occasion.
However, as much as polls revealed strong support for the AKP, it also underlined growing polarization between those who firmly support the policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and those keen to derail his desire to implement a presidential system.
Continuous crackdown on dissidents and opposition voices under the terrorism banner blur the lines yet further. Erdogan is at the forefront of moves to change legislation to strip HDP politicians of parliamentary immunity.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been at Erdogan’s side throughout the rise of the AKP over the past 14 years. However, running as a foreign policy advisor and then Foreign Minister is very much different to that of Prime Minister.
In theory power lies in the hands of the Prime Minister and not the President in Turkey. The president is meant to distance himself from the any particular party. But Erdogan has not kept his ambitions of a strong presidential system or rewriting of the Turkish constitution a secret whilst retaining a strong influence over the AKP. In other words, the current system has a presidential overtone in all but name.
If there was any semblance of unity within the AKP or a party wide endorsement of Erdogan’s policies or goals, then this was shattered by the announcement of Davutoglu that he will be standing down later this month.
Resignations simply don’t just come of nothing and a central point of contention is likely to be a grapple of power between Erdogan and Davutoglu.
Turkey has become accustomed to quelling dissident voices and it just so happened that one of those voices was the Prime Minister himself.
If there was any doubt as to who was in charge then this has now vanished. Erdogan has already insisted that that there is no turning back on plans to implement a presidential system.
Erdogan’s tough stance was on fully display as migrant deal with the EU was on the brink of collapse. “We’ll go our way, you go yours” Erdogan exclaimed at any notion that EU could pressurize Turkey to taper down its broad anti-terrorism laws.
Davutoglu on the other hand was the central architect of the migrant deal and viewed by the EU as a more constructive and balanced figure. The official line would be that agreements are negotiated with states and governments, not individuals, but the EU are clearly weary of a tough and unwavering Erdogan calling the shots.
Erdogan has proven to be a strong and resilient leader who refuses to be pushed around by the EU or the United States.
Even if Erdogan gets his way and brings about a strong presidential system, this doesn’t equate to peace, national harmony or stability.
For one, Erdogan’s continued tough line on the PKK, HDP and any sense of Kurdish nationalism will ensure that the doors to any peace process will remain firmly shut and violence rages on.
It doesn’t mean that Erdogan will be unpopular, it just means that the camps of unpopularity will be just as strong and determined, creating a deadly split that will divide and paralyze Turkey at home and abroad.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc