Accessibility links

Erdogan’s First Step: Secure More Power in New Role in Turkey

  • Dorian Jones

New Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (r) in a meeting with new Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara, Turkey, Aug. 29, 2014.

New Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (r) in a meeting with new Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara, Turkey, Aug. 29, 2014.

In his victory speech after securing his new post, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan mentioned a "new Turkey" and delivered a conciliatory message promising to embrace all groups within the country. He is expected to pursue a "more balanced" foreign policy, and will be seeking to rewrite the constitution.

In his first address as head of state, President Erdogan promised this week he would work to make a “new Turkey, a great Turkey”.

He also reaffirmed his commitment to continuing the peace process with the Kurdish rebel group the PKK and re-energizing Turkey’s long stalled bid to join the European Union.

He is also expected to reboot reunification efforts to reunite the island of Cyprus, divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriots since 1971.

Analyst Sinan Ulgen of the research organization Carnegie Europe says such moves will help to repair damage to President Erdogan’s international reputation after last year’s brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.

"I think he has two big elements of leverage. One is the Kurdish issue, and the other is the Cyprus problem. If he is able to solve either one of them or both of them he will certainly have the opportunity to win back some of the trust that he has lost in the past year in terms of his internationally standing," said Ulgen.

Observers say a sign of the president’s diminished international standing is that no western European leader attended the presidential swearing-in ceremony this week.

International relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University said Erdogan will also address growing western concerns that Ankara was turning a blind eye to the flow of Jihadists using Turkey to join Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria.

"In words and I guess in deeds too, it's changing its policy, because it cannot sustain a dialogue with its allies, which after all Turkey understood its needs, unless it really changes drastically its policy towards IS. Because everything it has done in the last 4 years has undermined its standing in the world," Ozel stated.

Although the role of the president is at present ceremonial, Erdogan has made clear that he will continue to run the country until a general election next summer. His ambition is then to be given full executive powers.

His choice of a loyal political ally, former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, as his replacement as prime minister is seen as key to facilitating his ambitions to continue to run the country.

The president political fate lies to a large degree in Davutoglu hands. With his plan to change the current parliamentary system to a presidential one, he needs for the AK party headed by Davutoglu, to secure a two-thirds parliamentary majority in next year’s general election to introduce constitutional reform, something the ruling AK party has never done.

But Marmara University assistant professor of political science Yuksel Taskin says the prime minister is unlikely to be a puppet of the president.

"In the long run I don't think Davutoglu would be silent and permissive because for 20 years Davutoglu was planning to be prime minister.... Secondly, Davutoglu actually created his own cadres, especially when he was in the ministry of foreign affairs, he actually promoted many young scholars as advisers or part of the bureaucracy. So just like Erdogan, Davutoglu also has a strong basis," Taskin noted.

Analyst Ulgen warned President Erdogan is in a race against time to preserve his power. "He will go to the presidency under the current constitution which indeed tends to gradually erode the power of the president to the advantage of the power of the prime minister," he said.

Turkish history is littered with political leaders whose power slipped away on ascending to the presidency. But international relations expert Ozel, said the current president, unlike his predecessors, has a clear mandate and, for now, an iron grip on the ruling AK Party. And, he said, if he succeeds in his political goal of constitutional change it will open the door to a radical transformation of the country.

"Erdogan promises a new republic where the chief executive will be president of the republic and not the prime minister. And the frame of reference of this new republic is going to be much more Islamic than we ever thought was possible," said Ozel.

President Erdogan, who comes from a political Islamist past, has dismissed such concerns. But critics argue a presidential system envisaged by the president would effectively remove any checks to his power.