The surprising outcome of Turkey’s November 1 elections ensured that the Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, would be in power for the next four years, as it has done for the past 13. What it did not resolve was how the leadership of the country would unfold.
The victory has been interpreted as a vindication of the approach taken by the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, upholding his belief that what the Turkish people most wanted was stability and governance, and that this could be provided only by the AKP. But what of the unresolved de facto and constitutional connection between the presidency and prime minister and titular head of the AKP, Ahmet Davutoglu?
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The previous election on June 7 was also, symbolically, a referendum for a strong presidential mandate for Erdogan. The AKP put to voters the choice between a hegemonic party-led parliamentary system or a presidential system. Voters responded by limiting the AKP to 40 percent of the vote, which was not even enough to form a single-party government, and thus a resounding defeat for Erdogan.
Although this issue was not at the centre of the recent AKP campaign, the November 1 elections did not grant a clear mandate for the institutionalisation of an “executive presidency” either. The AKP has a sufficient majority in the parliament to have the right to form a government, but fails by 14 votes to have the super-majority needed for introducing a new constitution.
The right governance
To manage a smooth transition from uncertainty to governance, the real challenge is to shape the leadership of the country so as to best serve the interests of Turkey, and the region.
Erdogan could play an extraordinarily important role as the regional and global voice of Turkey, giving expression to the new push to achieve a deeper democracy in the country while playing a more prominent role again in promoting trade and investment throughout Africa, Latin America, and Asia, as well as the Middle East.
There is an increasing consensus in Turkey and abroad that relying on the authority of a single, dominant leader will not get the kind of stability to stimulate economic growth, ensure diplomatic influence, and achieve political progress.
However, there is far less objection to a hegemonic party operating in a parliamentary system. There is trust that the second model could diminish toxic polarisation, counter the allegations of authoritarianism, and address the most pressing problems at home and in the region.
To avoid a disappointing sequel to this extraordinary vindication of the AKP at the polls depends upon the party leadership realising that this is the moment to establish an unprecedented succession story in Turkish history. The alternative would be to walk the path of personal ambition, overriding the best interests of the country as well as democratic values.
Davutoglu is a brilliant statesman and dedicated national figure who has worked closely with Erdogan since 2002. It is to Erdogan’s credit that he elevated Davutoglu to his present position of political eminence.
Davutoglu is not a typical politician, however, and such reflective individuals – without a political base of their own – rarely rise to lofty eminence in governing structures. As foreign minister – and lately as prime minister – Davutoglu has displayed astonishing energy and command of the issues facing Turkey.
As with others dealing in this period with the Middle East, Davutoglu has made his share of mistakes, but they were principled mistakes – made in circumstances in which the policy chosen was a reasonable decision. There is still room to manoeuvre in foreign policy and, with the right moves, put the country on the right track.
We believe that a real division of authority between these two dominant figures, coupled with a forthcoming effort to end the violence involving the Kurdish people, would set Turkey on a course that would moderate polarisation and make it much more likely that the country can solve the problems at home and contribute to a more peaceful and economically viable Middle East.
Such a political development would be greeted with suspicion at first, as some sort of trick that Erdogan had up his sleeve. It could be asked why at this moment of triumph Erdogan would suddenly don a coat of humility so contrary to his recent political profile.
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After all, while elevating Davutoglu, he kept him in the shadows, managing to transform what had been a largely ceremonial presidency into the dominant political position. And aside from Davutoglu, Erdogan effectively sidelined former President Abdullah Gul, the only other possible rival in the AKP ranks.
True, these considerations make this preferred arrangement of leadership implausible, yet we argue that it is the only scenario likely to get the country moving again with forward momentum. It offers Erdogan an unprecedented opportunity to transcend his past for the benefit of the country – a move that even his many critics would have to acknowledge once it was implemented.
Finally, we need to ask what such a dual pattern of leadership would look like. This is uncharted territory and there are many possibilities.
The most readily imaginable would involve Erdogan’s recognition that Davutoglu has the authority and responsibility to run the country on a day-to-day basis. Davutoglu must also rise to the occasion, step out from the shadows, and claim for himself the needed governing space.
In such a context, Erdogan could play an extraordinarily important role as the regional and global voice of Turkey, giving expression to the new push to achieve a deeper democracy in the country while playing a more prominent role again in promoting trade and investment throughout Africa, Latin America and Asia, as well as the Middle East.
Such a shift in the way Erdogan leads would also depend on constructive behaviour by the mainstream opposition in the media and the Republican People’s Party, and reciprocal encouragement from the government, perhaps offering ministerial posts to opposition parties.
Whatever the future holds for Turkey, resolving the leadership question in a positive way will greatly improve national prospects and help to establish the kind of political atmosphere conducive to solving problems and resolving conflicts.
Such recommendations may seem like an indulgent form of unrealistic fantasy, but if more carefully considered, what is proposed has many practical virtues, and deserves support.
Richard Falk is Albert G Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies. He is also former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.
Bulent Aras is a Global Fellow at Wilson Center, Washington DC and professor of International Relations at Sabanci University, Istanbul.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.