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Turkey's PM Steps Down as President Erdogan Tightens His Grip

Ahmet Davutoglu confirmed his departure on Thursday, saying that he wouldn't continue to lead the party if there was no consensus. A close Erdogan ally is likely to be elected in his place.
Photo by Patrick Seeger/EPA

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has confirmed he will step down, a move that comes after the premier lost a struggle for control of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Davutoglu confirmed the news at a press conference on Thursday afternoon in the capital of Ankara, saying that he wouldn't continue to lead the party if there was no consensus. The AKP will now hold an extraordinary congress on May 22 to vote on his successor. Davutoglu confirmed that he would not be running for re-election and went on to speak at length about his political track record, defending reforms and decisions made while he was in office.


A close Erdogan ally is likely to be selected for the premiership with possible candidates including the president's own son-in-law.

Davutoglu said he and Erdogan enjoyed "brotherly relations" and had "always worked hand in hand," adding that he would never speak badly of the president. But the announcement comes after months of mounting tensions between the two, and a week of intense speculation over the PM's future in the AKP.

They held a 90-minute meeting on Wednesday evening where Davutoglu was expected to demand less presidential interference in his affairs. Instead it appears to have led to his departure.

Rumors began to circulate a week ago when a blog post titled Pelikan Dosyasi [Pelican Brief] — a reference to the 1993 Hollywood thriller — appeared online. The author, seemingly a fervently pro-Erdogan Ankara insider, lambasted Davutoglu for acting against the president's wishes and portrayed him as a dangerously pro-Western traitor who had betrayed Erdogan. It came just after an AKP executive committee, acting with Erdogan's authorization, removed Davutoglu's authority to appoint regional party officials, a major blow to his authority.

Their relationship had been increasingly and publicly rocky. One of the biggest sources of contention was apparently Erdogan's desire to alter Turkey's constitution and transfer powers to his own office, something which Davutoglu had been far from enthusiastic about and a move seen by critics as increasingly authoritarian.


The two have also previously clashed over the controversial EU migrant deal, civil liberties issues — such as holding journalists and academics in pre-trial detention — and economic policy, where Erdogan's theories depart sharply from most accepted thinking. The president also forced an anti-corruption "transparency package" proposed by Davutoglu soon after taking office in 2014 to be withdrawn, having blocked an earlier graft probe while he was PM.

Davutoglu's replacement is expected to be a staunch Erdogan supporter willing to support expanded presidential powers, and therefore a simultaneous reduction in their own.

Possible candidates for the position include Transport Minister Binali Yildirim or Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, who is married to Erdogan's eldest daughter. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag and government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus have also been rumored.

"What will happen now, there will a congress that will elect a new party leader from a list that will have only one candidate," argues Kemal Kirisci, director of the Center on the US and Europe's Turkey Project at Brookings."The person will be the next PM and his sole task will be to ensure a referendum in support of Erdogan's rule as the sole ruler of Turkey until 2019 and probably beyond. Whether that will happen or not is any one's guess."

Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics for almost a decade and a half, first as a three-term AKP prime minister since the party came to power in 2002, and then as president from 2014. The presidency is traditionally a largely ceremonial position, and theoretically a non-partisan one — Erdogan officially left the AKP when he assumed office — but he has retained tight control of the party, working to solidify his influence and install his allies in senior positions.

Suat Kiniklioglu, a former AKP member who served on the party's executive board until 2012, said that Davutoglu had retained a level of independence in the premiership, which was not welcomed by Erdogan's allies. "Erdogan doesn't like sharing power whatsoever. Erdogan has reminded [Turkey] that he is the sole source of power and he is likely closer to his ultimate objective of becoming de jure executive president," he told VICE News. "Turkey will continue to suffer from authoritarianism with internal tensions increasing on every front."

Erdogan may now be able to consolidate his grip on power but Davutoglu's departure has plunged the country into yet more uncertainty, spooking investors. The Turkish lira plunged as much as 4.5 percent following the news, its biggest decline in six years.

Turkey is already dealing with open conflict in the southeast of the country, as security forces battle Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants, killing hundreds. Meanwhile the Syrian conflict on Turkey's southern border is continuing to spill over and a string of fatal terror attacks from Kurdish militants and the Islamic State group have hit urban areas including Istanbul and Ankara.