Turkey’s Prime Minister Resigns Over Muted Differences With Erdogan

Ahmet Davutoglu is stepping down as prime minister amid a growing rift with his longtime ally.

Turkey's president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu arrive for a Justice and Development Party (AKP) meeting in Ankara on August 21, 2014. Erdogan named Davutoglu to succeed him as ruling party leader and prime minister, promoting an ally who is expected to show unstinting loyalty to the new head of state. AFP PHOTO/ADEM ALTAN        (Photo credit should read )
Turkey's president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu arrive for a Justice and Development Party (AKP) meeting in Ankara on August 21, 2014. Erdogan named Davutoglu to succeed him as ruling party leader and prime minister, promoting an ally who is expected to show unstinting loyalty to the new head of state. AFP PHOTO/ADEM ALTAN (Photo credit should read )
Turkey's president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu arrive for a Justice and Development Party (AKP) meeting in Ankara on August 21, 2014. Erdogan named Davutoglu to succeed him as ruling party leader and prime minister, promoting an ally who is expected to show unstinting loyalty to the new head of state. AFP PHOTO/ADEM ALTAN (Photo credit should read )

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s quest to consolidate power has claimed one of his closest and highest-profile allies: Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

In his resignation speech Thursday, Davutoglu said he had concluded, after consulting with the president, that a change in the “prime minister’s position would serve a better purpose.” His vaguely worded explanation appears to reference Erdogan’s proposed constitutional amendment to further empower the president and reduce the position of the prime minister to a ceremonial one.

Despite ending a long and fruitful professional relationship with Erdogan, Davutoglu, who served as his foreign minister for five years before becoming prime minister in 2014, assured the public that they remain on good terms.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s quest to consolidate power has claimed one of his closest and highest-profile allies: Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

In his resignation speech Thursday, Davutoglu said he had concluded, after consulting with the president, that a change in the “prime minister’s position would serve a better purpose.” His vaguely worded explanation appears to reference Erdogan’s proposed constitutional amendment to further empower the president and reduce the position of the prime minister to a ceremonial one.

Despite ending a long and fruitful professional relationship with Erdogan, Davutoglu, who served as his foreign minister for five years before becoming prime minister in 2014, assured the public that they remain on good terms.

“Our relationship is still friendly. … You will never hear me say negative things about the president,” Davutoglu said in his speech at the headquarters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). He said he would step down after a party meeting on May 22.

Rumors of a falling-out between the two men started to swirl a few days ago, first appearing on a mysterious blog. The writer, a suspected Erdogan confidante, accused Davutoglu of betraying the country by resisting the planned transition to a presidential system and supporting a “transparency law,” among other initiatives opposed by the president.

In his years as foreign minister, Davutoglu forged strong working relationships with many foreign leaders in the West, including with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He was the point man for negotiating Turkey’s agreement this spring to accept unwanted refugees from Europe in return for money and visa-free travel.

He also may have been caught in the middle of Erdogan’s ongoing battle with free speech and press freedoms. Davutoglu was by no means a publicly ardent and outspoken defender of the media, but as recently as March, he told a European Council assembly he was “against any restriction of freedom of speech.”

Erdogan, by contrast, has been relentless on his critics in the media, protesters, and others who dare to even poke fun at him — whether in Turkey or beyond its borders.  

Photo credit: ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. Twitter: @HenryJohnsoon

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.