President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan looks determined to impose, in violation of the spirit of parliamentary democracy, his will over the government as Jan. 19, the date of the first Cabinet meeting he will preside over, draws near.
As part of Erdoğan's long-time aspiration to convert the country's parliamentary system into a presidential system, the President's Office will be restructured not only to monitor, but apparently also to guide the government, which means usurping the powers of the prime minister.
"The number of departments in the President's Office will be increased from seven to 13,” the Cumhuriyet daily said this past week.
According to the daily's report, Erdoğan will inform the government of the increase in the number of departments at the Cabinet meeting to be held on Jan. 19 at the recently built presidential palace.
The departments in the President's Office may, it is feared, assume the role of a shadow cabinet, de facto exercising powers in violation of the Constitution.
In fact, Erdoğan announced at the beginning of the week, following an exchange of public statements between one of his top advisors and top government officials, that he would preside over the Cabinet meeting on Jan. 19.
Confirming the expectation that he will exercise stronger executive powers by chairing Cabinet meetings from time to time, which has never been the case with previous presidents, Erdoğan said: "I have met with the prime minister [Ahmet Davutoğlu]. I will convene the Cabinet meeting on Jan. 19 in Beştepe [at the presidential palace dubbed Ak Saray]."
Although Erdoğan's remark vaguely implies that he and Davutoğlu agreed on his chairing the Cabinet on Jan. 19, a previous exchange of statements between Binali Yıldırım, one of Erdoğan's closest advisors and a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy, and top government figures revealed the tension between the government and president.
Yıldırım's recent statement that the Cabinet would convene under the chairmanship of Erdoğan on Jan. 5 prompted harsh reactions from both Prime Minister Davutoğlu and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç.
The first reaction to Yıldırım's statement came from Davutoğlu, who said last weekend: "Any issue that concerns myself and President Erdoğan is announced by either the president or myself, not by anyone else. So there is no such Cabinet meeting scheduled for Jan. 5.”
Following Davutoğlu's statement on Dec. 27, Arınç joined the discussion that same evening during a television program, saying Yıldırım is not a spokesman for Erdoğan and no such position was defined for him that would allow him to make any statement regarding the discussion over who will preside over the next Cabinet meeting. "He has no position other than being an İzmir deputy from the AK Party,” Arınç added.
Then a day later it was Yıldırım's turn to take a shot. Yıldırım implied, by cunningly chosen words, that Davutoğlu should obey instructions, as it was the party that assigned Davutoğlu to that post.
"On the way to New Turkey, we have, in a changing of the guard, placed Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in power, assigned him [with governing the country],” said Yıldırım, who was widely believed to actually be the person whom Erdoğan wanted to see as head of the ruling party and prime minister after being elected president. It is reportedly due to intraparty balances that Erdoğan opted for Davutoğlu instead of Yıldırım.
Yıldırım's remark can easily be interpreted as suggesting that Davutoğlu should not raise any objections, as it was the powerful figures in the ruling AK Party -- first and foremost Erdoğan -- who granted Davutoğlu power.
Erdoğan instigated all of these discussions by saying back in November that as of 2015 he would start chairing Cabinet meetings.
"The authority to preside over Cabinet meetings is already granted to me by the Constitution. It is out of the question for me not to use it. I will exercise that authority. God willing, we will enter 2015 that way,” the president said.
Recent reports about the 13-member "shadow government” established by Erdoğan at his extravagant presidential palace are also said to have disturbed Davutoğlu and some government members.
Although Davutoğlu said shortly after being appointed prime minister by Erdoğan that opposition leaders should treat him, rather than Erdoğan, as their political contact because Erdoğan is above politics as president, the prime minister has been heavily criticized by the opposition for acting under Erdoğan's instructions.
As if to confirm this, Davutoğlu has reportedly decided to boycott the next plenary session of the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD) scheduled for Jan. 22.
In this most recent example of Davutoğlu's failure to act independently, Davutoğlu's decision not to attend the TÜSİAD meeting came after Erdoğan said at the beginning of the week he would not attend the meeting as the head of TÜSİAD said the businessmen's association sees Davutoğlu, rather than Erdoğan, as the person whom they should address when dealing with issues regarding the business world.
In an exclusive interview with the Hürriyet daily on Monday, TÜSİAD President Haluk Dinçer said that TÜSİAD works with the prime minister and ministers related to the organization's efforts, not the president.
What the head of TÜSİAD said is not wrong in its content, as it is the prime minister -- as head of the government -- who is normally charged with dealing with economic issues, while the president is mostly endowed with symbolic powers in Turkey's parliamentary democracy.
But Erdoğan harshly reacted to Dinçer, saying, "Now that we [the President's Office] are not [seen as] the people to be addressed, we will not attend their meetings.”
Erdoğan's harsh reaction reveals that he wants to govern the country like a president in a presidential system, which is not in line with the Constitution.
Following Erdoğan's reaction, government sources who spoke on behalf of Davutoğlu accused Dinçer of failing to understand the notion of "New Turkey.”
"[…] But TÜSİAD cannot abandon its old habits. It is trying to impose its opinions on political processes in Turkey based on messages from abroad even though all channels of dialogue [with the government] are open," the sources reportedly said.
Critics say more executive powers in the hands of Erdoğan will likely intensify Turkey's drift toward one-man rule.
Since taking office as president in late August, Erdoğan -- who served for almost 15 years as prime minister and head of the ruling party -- has not hesitated to intervene in government affairs.
Various remarks uttered by Erdoğan after being elected president in August indicate that he treats Davutoğlu as a mere servant.
In September Erdoğan accused certain leading credit rating agencies of being biased in their ratings of Turkey, warning that the country could cut ties with Moody's and Fitch.
"If these [rating agencies] keep behaving this way, I will tell the prime minister to cut ties with them [Moody's and Fitch]. We have not obtained any gains through them,” Erdoğan said.
Apart from Erdoğan's involvement in a purely economic issue, which is not his domain as per the Constitution, his wording -- "I will tell the prime minister to" -- says a lot about how he sees his role and that of Davutoğlu: a prime minister who is expected to act under instructions from the president.
Erdoğan clearly said on numerous occasions, before being elected Turkey's first president by popular vote, that he would not act in the same way as former presidents had.
That meant he would not refrain from meddling in the government's affairs, which the current Constitution authorizes him to do to a certain extent by allowing the president to head a Cabinet meeting whenever he so wishes.