Davutoglu and Erdogan

There was no disagreement between Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, but this is hardly the case between Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Actually, even the phrase “number two” is problematic, as Medvedev is like an extension of Putin’s brain or body, but there is an ongoing power struggle between Erdogan and Davutoglu. This struggle is growing in intensity despite the crisis that started with the downing of the Russian aircraft. The two politicians maintain a public polemic sending their messages via the media.

The presidential system constitutes the subject matter of the disagreement that has been already made public. Last week, the prime minister complained about the de facto uncertainty caused by this debate. “We have failed to choose a system: a parliamentary or a presidential system. Obviously, there is a problem and I experience this problem,” he said. Before that, the president had commented, “If the president and the prime minister march to different drummers, then we cannot get anywhere,” cautioning the prime minister to be in sync with him. When Davutoglu responded: “Turkey cannot get along with a mixed system. It must have a clear system. This [presidential system] is not Turkey’s top agenda item,” the polemic grew in intensity. Then came the president’s reproachful barrage targeting Davutoglu: “We need to get rid of dual headship. Otherwise, problems may arise even you love each other very much or acted together in the past.”

In parallel to this public debate, Erdogan is waging his campaign for a new constitution with reference to a presidential or a semi-presidential system or, if nothing else, a system that allows the president to have party affiliations. Likewise, Davutoglu continues to resist this campaign. As is seen, the power struggle between the two figures is mediated via a debate on the Constitution or the political system.

If Davutoglu had been like Medvedev, Erdogan would not have needed to have this debate. However, this is not a problem of one person or personal loyalty.

The reason a personal quest for power has recklessly evolved into a “system” debate in Turkey is the extremely slippery foundation of the balance of power. The oligarchic structure Putin finances through natural resources relies on a well-defined hierarchy and strong discipline. If you intend to be a Putin in Turkey, you have to re-establish and manage a similar structure over and over again every morning. The difference becomes obvious when you compare the June 7 general election to the Nov. 1 snap election in terms of the Erdogan factor. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) won the Nov. 1 election because Erdogan didn’t speak and the “Turkish-type presidential system” was dropped from the agenda and Davutoglu came to the fore as the leader of the party. Now, Davutoglu is asking for what belongs to him in the presidential system debate maintained by Erdogan.

Is there really a debate on the Constitution going on? No. Erdogan seeks to “formalize” the presidential system powers and authorities that he effectively uses — without caring about constitutional legitimacy. As in the case of the downing of the Russian aircraft, external crises help to make intra-state crises visible. The presidential system agenda complements a conflict in which the top generals are on one side and Erdogan on the other regarding the National Intelligence Organization’s (MİT) Syria-bound trucks and in which Davutoglu is sandwiched between the two sides. Former Chief of General Staff Gen. Yasar Buyukanıt being summoned to the prosecutor’s office years later in connection with a highly controversial military memorandum — issued on April 27, 2007 against the ruling AK Party and posted at the Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) official website, www.tsk.tr, at close to midnight– is a direct outcome of this power struggle as well.

The relationship between Erdogan and Davutoglu is hardly similar to the one between Putin and Medvedev, so they have to share power and clash with each other for more at every opportunity. The Constitution backs Davutoglu and Erdogan tried to get his party back with his “president with party affiliations” thesis. The truth is that there is no debate on the Constitution in reality, only the clash between Erdogan and Davutoglu continuing with the involvement of the military bureaucracy.