BACKGROUND: On August 28, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu presented his new cabinet upon its approval by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The new Turkish government is a caretaker government; it is the first of its kind in Turkey, and it is tasked with governing until a new government is formed following the early elections to parliament on November 1 that Erdoğan called on August 24.
For a majority government to be formed, it needs to be supported by 276 votes in parliament. The general election on June 7, which deprived the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of its majority in parliament that it had enjoyed since it first came to power in 2002, did not yield a result that enabled the formation of a majority government. The election gave the AKP 258 seats in parliament. The center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) got 132 seats. The far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) got 80 seats each.
Following the June 7 election, Prime Minister Davutoğlu duly handed in the resignation of the AKP government, but was subsequently given the mission to form a new government by President Erdoğan. That was all in order, as Davutoğlu is the leader of the biggest party in parliament. However, the way Davutoğlu and Erdoğan have handled the government formation subsequently has not been in line with political custom in Turkey and neither has it been in accordance with the Turkish constitution.
Upon receiving the mission to form a new government, Davutoğlu and his lieutenants engaged in formal talks with CHP representatives; there was a general expectation in some circles – notably among the Turkish business community – that the talks would midwife a “grand coalition” of AKP and CHP.(See August 5, 2015 Turkey Analyst) This was in fact always a very long shot, given the utterly irreconcilable differences that exist between the two parties that have been the main protagonists of Turkish politics since the AKP rose to power, one representing political Islam and the other the secularist founding ideology of the Turkish republic.
Nonetheless, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu made a point of appearing willing to set aside differences in the best interest of the country; he did, however, also make clear that the CHP asked for decisive influence over the conduct of foreign policy, over the education system – an ideologically crucial government portfolio – and that the government would emancipate itself from President Erdoğan’s extra-constitutional hold over the executive. There was never any chance of the AKP going along with those demands; instead, the AKP reportedly offered the CHP to join a time-limited government that would take the country to an early election. It was obvious that the AKP never really harbored any intention of forming a “grand coalition,” and that what passed as “coalition negotiations” were pointless talks with the only purpose of letting time run out so that Erdoğan could call an early election.
When Davutoğlu finally formally let it be known that he had “failed” in his so-called attempts to form a new government, Erdoğan – in outright violation of political custom – refused to give CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu the mission to explore the possibilities of forming a CHP-led government. Erdoğan bluntly stated that he had no intention whatsoever of entrusting “those who don’t even know the address of Beştepe” with the forming a government, a reference to the fact the CHP leader has refused to set foot in the new presidential palace that has come to symbolize Erdoğan’s autocratic one-man rule.
In the event, Kılıçdaroğlu’s chances of succeeding in forming a government were practically non-existent. That was clear right after the June 7 election, when Devlet Bahçeli, the MHP leader, slammed shut the door for a of CHP and MHP, proposed by Kılıçdaroğlu, even though he had offered Bahçeli to become prime minister. The reason for the MHP’s intransigence was that such a minority coalition would have been dependent on the support of the pro-Kurdish HDP, and it was obviously utterly unthinkable for the staunchly Turkish nationalist MHP to be associated with the party of the Kurdish national movement. Neither was the MHP willing to join an AKP-led government; that was in fact the first choice of the AKP base, unsurprisingly so since the two parties are both right-wing, and share a common electoral base among Sunni Turks in the Anatolian heartland. But the MHP probably calculated that offering its services as a junior coalition partner would be harmful for its future electoral prospects. Thus, the only remaining option was a temporary government, tasked with taking the country to an early election.
IMPLICATIONS: The Turkish constitution calls for the proportionate representation in a temporary election government of the parties that are represented in parliament; however, both CHP and MHP declared that they were not going participate in the election government. Of the opposition parties, HDP was the only one that volunteered to take part, ironically so, since HDP has become the chief protagonist of AKP, being responsible for the AKP’s loss of its majority, which was the result of Kurdish AKP voters switching over to HDP. HDP deputies Müslüm Doğan and Ali Haydar Konca became ministers of development and EU, respectively.
Forming the election cabinet, Ahmet Davutoğlu chose not to offer cabinet posts to the opposition parties by addressing the leadership of the parties – which would have been the proper way – but by sending personal letters of invitation to five individual CHP deputies and three MHP deputies. Among the five CHP deputies whom Davutoğlu offered a cabinet post was former CHP leader Deniz Baykal. Baykal had caused consternation in CHP ranks when he after the June 7 election accepted an invitation from Erdoğan, who supposedly invited him in his capacity as the alderman of the new parliament. In reality, Erdoğan’s invitation was a blatant attempt to sow discord in CHP ranks; he was either attempting to lure Baykal and his followers away from CHP, or to create the impression that Baykal was susceptible to heed such, possible calls. Baykal declined Davutoğlu’s offer, no doubt as he realized that that would have ended his political career.
Davutoğlu’s and Erdoğan’s attempts to sow discord in opposition ranks by picking deputies for cabinet posts among them, over the head of the parties’ leaders, and ignoring the decisions of those parties not to join the government, did pay off in the case of MHP deputy Tuğrul Türkeş, who accepted the offer and became one of two deputy prime ministers. Türkeş is not a particularly successful politician, but his “asset” is his last name. He is the son of Alparslan Türkeş (1917-1997) who was the founding the leader of MHP and the legendary leader of Turkey’s extreme nationalist movement. Luring his son away from the MHP and into the AKP-dominated government shows that the AKP hopes to similarly attract MHP voters to the AKP in the upcoming election.
The AKP is very clearly making an attempt to reach out to the Turkish nationalist constituency. Another “transfer” from this ideological camp is Yaşar Topçu, the former leader of the conservative-nationalist Grand Unity Party (BBP), who was appointed minister of culture. However, it is unlikely that the inclusion of two Turkish nationalists – albeit one with a symbolically charged last name – in the cabinet is going to yield the desired result; it is not probable that this alone will succeed in precipitating a mass transfer of Turkish nationalist MHP voters to the AKP.
Prime Minister Davutoğlu’s new, temporary election cabinet has 26 ministers; of these only four – formally the two nationalist-conservatives Tuğrul Türkeş and Yaşar Topçu, and the HDP representatives Müslüm Dogan and Ali Haydar Konca – are not either AKP deputies or bureaucrats close to AKP; in fact, both Türkeş and Topçu are also close to AKP. With 22 out of 26 ministers representing AKP, the composition of the election cabinet is thus in violation of the requirements of the constitution.
Not only is the new Davutoğlu cabinet a more or less pure AKP government – the two HDP deputies have intentionally been given politically unimportant seats that notably exclude them from participation in the crucial body of state power, the National Security Council; it is moreover also an exclusively “Erdoğanist” cabinet. There is not a single name in the new cabinet that is close to the prime minister; all AKP names are instead close to Erdoğan. Two close friends of former Interior Minister Efkan Ala, himself an Erdoğan loyalist – Cenap Aşçı and Selami Altınok – are represented. The former is minister for customs and trade, and the latter is interior minister. Several of the ministers hail from the İskenderpaşa lodge of the Naqshbandi order, which has formed the nucleus of the parties of Turkish political Islam, from the National Salvation Party (MSP) in the 1970s to the AKP today.(See “The Naqshbandi-Khalidi Order and Political Islam in Turkey”)
CONCLUSIONS: Ahmet Davutoğlu’s new cabinet is formally charged with presiding over the country until after the early election on November 1 has been held and a new government has been formed. Supposedly, the government is “temporary,” but it is revelatory of dreams of permanency in power.
In violation of the constitution, the caretaker cabinet is a pure AKP government. Although formally temporary, the new Turkish government is nonetheless nothing but an expression of the determination of the AKP to secure permanent power. Both the process that led to its formation and its extra-constitutional composition bears testimony to the power-grab of the AKP.
(Image attribution: Wikimedia Commons; Boris Ajeganov)