When we met with then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in our newspaper’s office in Istanbul six years ago, he was a rising star. With his charm offensive, Turkey promised to set an example to other Arab nations in the neighborhood with its vast soft power.
During our encounter that year Davutoglu reveled in the prospect that he may one day become a prime minister. “I was a scholar. I always said politics is not for me. But I had no idea that I would become a foreign minister,” Davutoglu then said. “And hence I am not making any predictions if I am going to be a prime minister in 2014.” He knew his political life was uncertain.
Davutoglu assumed the nation’s top job in 2014, replacing the country’s sharp-tongued leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had recently become the country’s first popularly elected president, a supposedly ceremonial office. But I always felt Davutoglu, himself an ambitious politician, could not survive in a political landscape dominated by Erdogan; for Davutoglu was being asked to be a maestro of an orchestra, whose songs are composed only by Erdogan.
The cohabitation of Erdogan and Davutoglu was hardly an alliance made in the heaven. A long-simmering feud within the ruling party AKP brewed over the past month. The rupture between the two politicians was crystallized on Thursday as Davutoglu said he will step down on May 22. It was the end of the Davutoglu’s era.
Davutoglu’s ephemeral premiership was hardly a success. Back when he was the foreign minister, he transformed his academic thought into an instrument of foreign policy. He will be remembered most for his utter failure in the Syrian crisis.
Davutoglu’s announcement of resignation has reportedly come only days after a blog post, allegedly written by one of Erdogan’s close confidantes’, that blasted the prime minister for trying in numerous occasions to overthrow Erdogan. The blog post quickly went viral on the social media, signaling that the end for Davutoglu is near.
As foreign minister Davutoglu transformed his academic thought into an instrument of foreign policy. However, he will be remembered most for his utter failure in the Syrian crisisMahir Zeynalov
No doubt that Davutoglu was serving as the prime minister for conformity to Erdogan’s immutable strictures. I believe the president always wanted a docile prime minister, and he had to eventually cast him aside as a villain when Davutoglu showed signs of independent decision-making.
What, I believe, is a forced departure of Davutoglu, who was elected with 49 percent of the vote only six months ago, also spelled an end to Turkey’s long tradition of parliamentary democracy. It was the latest chapter in Erdogan’s incremental plan for more power grab.
Davutoglu sensed a looming danger in the offing a few months ago. He rushed to cling a historic migrant deal with the EU, pushing the 28-member bloc to lift visa requirements for Turks in return. Davutoglu considered the visa-free travel as the only chance of his political survival. According to two senior officials, Davutoglu told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that his political survival was at stake if the EU did not honor its pledge of the visa deal, Financial Times reported.
The Erdogan camp, however, considered it as a conspiracy against him. He publicly belittled the visa deal. Davutoglu then tried to get an appointment with US President Barack Obama, perhaps calculating that a one-on-one meeting with the US president could earn him more time. Washington later said Obama-Davutoglu meeting was postponed at the request of Ankara. Could it be possible that Erdogan camp sabotaged the meeting? I don’t know for sure, but I feel it wouldn’t be unlikely.
As Davutoglu spoke on Thursday, he hailed his short-lived tenure as an exceptional success, underscored his popularity among the public and made sure it was not his choice to leave the office. His remarks stood in contrast with Erdogan’s previous statement that it was Davutoglu’s own decision to step down.
Since the prime minister has fired off some vitriolic remarks, political commentators have been scratching their heads in an attempt to understand underlying messages hidden in the speech of disgruntled Davutoglu. There was no doubt that hard feelings left from his forced departure. The ruling party, long byline for a consolidated political structure, is bursting at the seams. The word is that several politicians are now aligned with Davutoglu to challenge the authority of Erdogan with a new political establishment. Davutoglu’s remarks seemed pregnant to a wider and quite nasty internal reckoning.
It wouldn’t be unusual, in my opinion, for pro-Erdogan media to embark on a sinister campaign to vilify his political opponents. It is a recurring fact that Erdogan’s rivals, particularly ones hailed from within, are unable to survive in the face of massive smear campaign machine which is also known as the loyalist media. Davutoglu’s premature rebellion may draw Erdogan’s unyielding wrath and end the disgraced politician’s political career for good.
The ouster of the prime minister is described as a “Palace Coup” by many critics in Turkey. The Turkish “palace intrigue” in fact involves an actual palace, a 1,150-room sumptuous presidential complex Erdogan built two years ago.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, Energy Minister Berat Albayrak (also Erdogan’s son-in-law), Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus and Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim are the strongest candidates for Davutoglu’s post. But the ruling party congress on May 22 will only serve as a façade for Erdogan’s hand-picked successor.
Mahir Zeynalov is a journalist with Turkish English-language daily Today's Zaman. He was previously the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov