The Turkish prime minister’s announcement Thursday that he will resign is a move that many analysts contend stems from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s relentless bid to bolster his power and pursue unchallenged his vision of a “New Turkey.”
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whom Erdogan selected for the post after becoming president in 2014, said during a speech in Ankara, the capital, that he would leave out of “necessity.” He refrained from criticizing Erdogan after months of speculation in the Turkish media that a rift between the two had emerged.
“Erdogan’s honor is my honor,” Davutoglu said. “We have always stood shoulder to shoulder.”
The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is expected to hold an emergency meeting May 22 to name a new prime minister. Davutoglu said he does not plan to resign from the party.
Erdogan picked Davutoglu to succeed him in the post of prime minister, expecting a pliable ally to head the Turkish parliament.
Davutoglu largely complied, but he also sought to shape Turkish politics, falling afoul of the controlling president on issues, including whether to resume peace talks with Kurdish militants, the treatment of journalists accused of spying and a more authoritarian system of government.
“Davutoglu ‘dared’ to be an active prime minister, by taking initiatives on his own,” said Sezin Oney of the political science department at Bilkent University in Ankara.
Many observers say Erdogan is seeking to establish a presidential system of rule, absent checks and balances, that will amount to a dictatorship.
“He wants absolute micro and macro power, total control,” said Cengiz Aktar, a scholar at the Istanbul Policy Center. “The country is heading towards one-man rule. There is no politician that can challenge Erdogan.”
Davutoglu often appeared uneasy with Erdogan’s broader goals. The pro-Erdogan media had repeatedly accused the prime minister of not showing enough support for implementing the system.
A core feature of Erdogan’s broader designs is a pivot away from alliances with the West — the U.S., the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — that have shaped Turkey since the end of World War II.
Erdogan’s disdain for the West and its democratic values has become increasingly clear since the “Arab Spring” revolts, which he perceived as an opportunity to pursue his broader regional and domestic goals.
Davutoglu, according to Oney, was a proponent of alliances with the West and of “powerful state institutions that wanted to designate a more symbolic role for Erdogan.”
Since July, Turkey’s Kurdish southeast has turned into a war zone as three years of peace talks collapsed, with security forces battling Kurdish insurgents in some of the worst violence to beset the country in decades. The fighting flared after Erdogan’s party lost its parliamentary majority in June, largely because of the rise of a pro-Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party.
Critics contend that Erdogan incited the violence to whip up nationalist sentiment and delegitimize the Kurdish movement, as he sought fresh elections and the opportunity to regain the ruling party’s majority. Davutoglu recently suggested that there could be a return to peace talks, a statement that enraged Erdogan, who flatly rejected any cessation of hostilities.
Davutoglu aggressively pursued the EU-Turkey agreement to address the issue of migrants trying to reach Europe, which he believed would give him leverage over the president and strengthen his position.
The premier’s success in getting Europe to ease visa restrictions for Turks by June was seen as a slight to Erdogan, who had previously said he would deliver visa-free travel by October 2016.
“I don’t understand why bringing it forward four months is presented as a win,” Erdogan said this week. “I’m saddened by the presentation of small things in a bigger light.”
It is widely rumored that Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, may ascend to the position of party leader and prime minister.
Johnson is a special correspondent.