The Long Fall of Turkey's 'Zero Problems' Mastermind

The Long Fall of Turkey's 'Zero Problems' Mastermind

Ahmet Davutoğlu’s ruined foreign-policy legacy.


Apart from the Kurdish issue, Davutoğlu opposed Erdoğan’s crackdown on antigovernment journalists and political opponents, as well as his constant attempts to rein in the Turkish Central Bank. It is open to debate whether Davutoğlu opposed these moves by Erdoğan out of conviction and political moderation, or because he saw them as part of Erdoğan’s drive to centralize power and leave Davutoğlu out of the loop. All in all, Davutoğlu certainly did not like the idea of being turned into a prime minister with no effective political power.

On the other hand, Erdoğan proved to be a man who does not like competition. Indeed, there have been situations where it was easy for Erdoğan to perceive Davutoğlu as a direct threat to his authority. This occurred when Erdoğan’s and Davutoğlu’s associates tried shifting the blame and responsibility for electoral failures and successes for their respective leaders, or when Erdoğan observed that Davutoğlu was becoming a more acceptable interlocutor for Washington. On top of all of that, the EU-Turkey refugee deal brokered by Davutoğlu was the first good foreign-policy news after a long time, and Erdoğan was worried that it could strengthen Davutoğlu domestically. However, unlike Davutoğlu the intellectual, Erdoğan was much more adept in the game of party politics, effectively clipping Davutoğlu’s wings when the Central Executive Board (MYK) of the AKP deprived Davutoğlu, by forty-seven out of fifty votes, of the right to appoint local party heads. Erdoğan emerged victorious, proving to Davutoğlu that he controls the party machinery, ultimately leading to Davutoğlu’s resignation.


Finally, although Davutoğlu’s departure certainly signals the end of the “Davutoglu era” and “Turkey’s imperial fantasy,” the troubles for Turkey are just beginning. It is almost certain that the next prime minister will not be as impressive as Davutoğlu, and that he or she will most likely be a puppet without real political influence, doomed to follow Erdoğan’s lead. Many experts seem to be in agreement that Turkey’s politics will be dominated more and more by a single man, which creates the additional risk that one day, Turkey will slide from being an “illiberal democracy” into being an openly authoritarian regime. As far as Davutoğlu is concerned, he will be remembered for his intellect and ambitions, although the latter aspect turned out to be unrealistic.

Vuk Vuksanovic used to work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia and is now a political risk consultant in the Belgrade office of Brasidas Group, an international consulting firm. He holds degrees from the University of Belgrade and from the London School of Economics and Political Science. You can follow him on Twitter: @v_vuksanovic.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Mueller/MSC