Will the Turkish President's discarded former allies ever dare to form a new party to challenge him?
ISTANBUL — Justice and Development Party (AKP) leaders never liked the way Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu became Turkey's prime minister two years ago, nor did they approve of his performance or professional style once he got the job. The only thing they actually appreciated was the way he left.
This much was clear during this past weekend's party congress in Istanbul that selected Binali YÄ±ldÄ±rÄ±m, a longtime confidante of President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan, as Davutoglu's successor as prime minister. All present spoke plainly — from Council Chairman and Justice Minister Bekir BozdaÄŸ to the average representative — and all were in agreement: "The only leader of this party is ErdoÄŸan."
This is nothing new. After the 2011 elections, the current situation had already taken shape. ErtuÄŸrul Günay, who was a cabinet minister back then, summed it up well: "This party has 20 million voters and millions of registered members. During any activity or congress, the only slogan they chant is "Recepâ€¦ Tayyipâ€¦ ErdoÄŸanâ€¦" Whether the topic is justice, development, freedom or something else, they do not chant any other slogan. This bodes well for the establishment of a dictatorship."
He made these remarks years ago, well before DavutoÄŸlu's time. The party's position was firmly established, but DavutoÄŸlu's presence delayed its open declaration.
That's why DavutoÄŸlu received the send-off of a low-level bureaucrat rather than one befitting a prime minister. He wasn't the only one sent packing: the last founding members of the party to speak of "procedure" or "law" were excluded from the party's Central Executive board (MKYK), as were prominent founding members such as former president Abdullah Gül, Hüseyin Çelik and Bülent ArÄ±nç.
The increase in the number of ousted officials is directly tied to DavutoÄŸlu's own departure, as the party adopts a "love it or leave it" philosophy. ArÄ±nç and Celik had been voicing their objections and criticisms openly for awhile, while Gül had been sharing his uneasiness in more private circles.
Gül's distance from DavutoÄŸlu stemmed from the way ErdoÄŸan became president. DavutoÄŸlu was elected head of the AKP during another congress, before Gül's term was over, effectively preventing him from changing seats with Erdogan as the prime minister. However, the gap has closed, and Gül is now closer to DavutoÄŸlu than to ErdoÄŸan.
While those who have left the AKP haven't yet founded a new organization, it is widely believed they will do so, especially after this past party congress. DavutoÄŸlu insisted that he will continue his political career and mentioned ErdoÄŸan once in his speech, making no reference, however, to ErdoÄŸan's projected executive presidential system. Publicly stating that he believed his departure caused uneasiness among AKP voters and Turkish citizens in general is significant, but DavutoÄŸlu's most important observation was the following: "I stood before you for 20 months to serve the cause. Now, I will stand beside you, also to serve the cause."
AKP leaders were as displeased with these words as they were pleased with DavutoÄŸlu's departure.
Though the AKP has benefited from the victim image it projects — attacked by the "Old Turkey" that once imprisoned ErdoÄŸan for reading an Islamic poem — at the last minute, I heard a comment that could strengthen DavutoÄŸlu's position in the future: "Now, he too is a victim."