Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held a meeting Wednesday, after which it emerged that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will hold a congress on May 22. During that meeting, Davutoğlu — Erdoğan’s hand-picked successor — will stand down from his post as chairman of AKP and consequently, as the country's prime minister.
Davutoğlu has long been thought to be at odds with Erdoğan, particularly over the latter’s intent to create a stronger presidency in Turkey, which is currently a parliamentary democracy. Erdoğan wants to create a presidential system, for which he needs to change the constitution, arguing it will allow the country to function more effectively. The change, if it is enacted, will also greatly increase his powers.
“From now on, Turkey’s sole agenda is the presidential system and an early election,” Mehmet Ali Kulat, head of the pollster Mak Danismanlik — seen as close to Erdoğan — told Reuters. He also forecast elections to be held in October or November.
Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute, told Agence France-Presse that Erdoğan now exercised more control than anyone in Turkey's modern democratic history. Davutoğlu’s departure “will allow Erdoğan to distance himself from some of his failed policies that can be attributed to Davutoğlu,” he said.
The top two leaders of the country, while remaining partners, have been in disagreement over other issues as well, such as Erdoğan’s clampdown on journalists, selection of candidates for parliamentary elections and even the still-inconclusive EU visa deal.
The political drama unfolding in Turkey could also cause concerns for EU leaders who had agreed in principle Wednesday to allow Turkish citizens visa-free travel to Europe, as a part of the refugee deal that had been negotiated by Davutoğlu. After his departure, Turkey’s commitment to the deal could come under question, various media reports said.
Turkey is also a key player and a U.S. ally in the campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria, which the U.S. announced recently it is stepping up. Erdoğan has often threatened to quit the coalition if the U.S. continued working with Kurds, who are important local players but are considered terrorists by Turkey.