In a speech in parliament on Jan. 28, Turkey's main opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, addressed Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu: "You are not the prime minister. You are [a "photo-op"] kid seated on the prime minister's chair."
The weird situation Davutoglu has found himself in is the product of his boss and predecessor, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Last summer, as election season approached, then Prime Minister Erdogan and then Foreign Minister Davutoglu tightened their grip on the internet. The duo deliberately limited their citizens' access to social media and to popular and informative websites. They also increased the government's power over the courts and the power of the MIT (Turkish intelligence Agency) to spy on people. None of this stopped the AKP from winning at the polls.
Shortly after Erdogan won the presidential election in August, he nominated Davutoglu to be his successor as party chairman and prime minister.
But Erdogan's longer-term plan was different. In a move possibly modeled after the arrangement between Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev in Russia, Davutoglu would take the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to parliamentary elections in June 2015 and win a two-thirds majority, allowing them to amend the constitution to enable Erdogan to become a hands-on "executive president" (rather than a symbolic one), with almost endless executive powers -- while the prime minister would be reduced to a symbolic role. In other words, Davutoglu's political task would finish off his own mission.
Burak Bekdil writes that in order to help Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) expand his executive powers, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is probably the world's first ever politician demanding votes to end his own rule. (Image sources: World Economic Forum; CFR video screeenshot)
Since then, Davutoglu has carefully avoided political conflict with Erdogan in public. His loyalty to his boss has remained unquestioned. In public speeches, Davutoglu is often seen echoing Erdogan and imitating his confrontational rhetoric. But he probably has also been privately (and grudgingly) rethinking his own role: the "photo-op" premier.
The first blow came when Davutoglu asked three of four former cabinet ministers accused of corruption, to volunteer to be tried at the supreme court. A parliamentary commission was investigating the charges. In the face of strong evidence against the suspects, even the commission's AKP members signaled they could vote in favor of court proceedings. That is, until Erdogan intervened to save all four of them.
After pressure from Erdogan, to Davutoglu's embarrassment, all nine members of the AKP commission voted against legal proceedings.
Heartbroken, but still keen to fight corruption, Davutoglu did not know the second blow would come soon.
Davutoglu drafted a bill, dubbed "The Transparency Package," which would introduce compulsory asset declaration for senior party officials, provincial and district-level party executives, and executives of radio and television channels. The presidents and members of the top courts, as well as the heads of chambers of these courts, would also have been accountable for asset declaration.
But Erdogan, meeting with party officials in the absence of Davutoglu, ordered to freeze the effort, which he said was "badly-timed ahead of parliamentary elections [on June 7]."
In early February, the AKP said the transparency package was being indefinitely postponed.
Heartbroken once again, Davutoglu decided to augment his team by pushing Turkey's master spy, Hakan Fidan, into parliamentary elections. Fidan would run for parliament and become a minister in Davutoglu's post-election cabinet.
But Erdogan expressed resentment over Fidan's candidacy. "He should have taken my consent before leaving the job," he said. That was enough to pull the string.
About a month after his resignation as chief intelligence officer, Fidan withdrew his candidacy, quit the AKP and was back at his former job almost on the same day as he quit party politics.
Davutoglu is still campaigning for the June 7 elections. If the AKP can win 330 or more seats in Turkey's 550-seat legislature, Erdogan's dream of an "executive presidency" can at least be put to a referendum. More votes for the AKP will mean higher chances for Erdogan's "executive presidency." Davutoglu is probably the world's first ever politician demanding votes to end his own rule.
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.