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Turkey's prime minister just resigned. Grim times for Turkish democracy

Aleesha Matharu | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST

With each passing day, Turkey's democracy looks to be slipping deeper into a coma. And the man responsible for inducing this coma - Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan - shows no signs of stopping. Till all power rests with him.

Two days ago the Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu announced that he would be leaving his job on 22 May. But that resignation is on paper: in reality, he's been forced out because he couldn't get on board with Erdogan's plan to revamp the Turkish constitution to concentrate a dangerous amount of power in the office of the presidency.

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On 6 May, Erdogan then made it clear that there will be no turning back from his target of shifting from a parliamentarian system to a strong presidential system. Which means this ouster signals the beginning of Erdogan's plan to seize complete control of power.

His latest message has been the clearest so far since the debates over a presidential system started in 2010 during the constitutional amendments referendum. Erdogan also said he wanted to go to the people for that shift, which would need 330 votes in the 550-seat parliament.

Showing who's boss

Davutoglu is the last of the original team that Erdogan had chosen 14 years ago to run the country with him. Davutoglu, then an academic, became his foreign policy adviser and was then made foreign minister in 2009.

The earliest split between the two came soon after Davutoglu's appointment as prime minister in 2014. Davutoglu had been a natural choice to replace Erdogan in the prime minister's seat when the former ascended to the presidency as Erdogan would obviously still remain in the driver's seats.

The first issue cropped up when Davutoglu proposed an anti-corruption package in response to allegations of corruption made against Erdogan's family and closest political allies. Erdogan said the idea was premature and it was dropped.

Davutoglu has also been marginally less enthused on the destructive war with militants from Turkey's large Kurdish minority, which was rekindled last year.

With the resignation of Turkey's PM, the President now stands alone and unchallenged

What would have annoyed Erdogan the most was Davutoglu's stance on anti-terrorism laws. The prime minister spoke out in support of hundreds of academics, who who were arrested under anti-terrorism laws for writing a public letter critical of Erdogan's Kurdish policies.

The final straw appears to have come with Davutoglu's push to negotiate a deal with the European Union to accept refugees back from Greece, in exchange for $6 billion and a visa-free travel regime for Turks.

Erdogan appeared lukewarm toward the deal while Davutoglu and his team were at the helm of negotiations.

The deal requires Turkey to adopt a number of policy changes, including on restraining its rampant abuse of anti-terrorist legislation, in exchange visa-free travel to the EU - a move that would be enormously popular among Turks.

In other words, it would constrain Erdogan's freedom of action and provide the EU with leverage.

The talk at which Erdogan and Davutoglu discussed his future came on Wednesday night, hours after the European Commission recommended a green light to give Turks visa free travel. The next day, Erdogan told the European to stuff it and refused to reform the country's anti-terror laws.

The stakes

Erdogan has behaved in an increasingly authoritarian fashion in recent years - cracking down on dissident journalists, breaking up mass anti-government demonstrations violently, and frequently shutting down access to all social media sites.

And the stakes here are high, given how alarming Turkey's drift toward authoritarianism already is. "Erdogan is well on his way to becoming a dictator, if he isn't one already," Dexter Filkins, the New Yorker's Middle East correspondent, wrote in March.

None of this bodes well for Turkey. And it's a warning for others that even wealthy countries - Turkey has a GDP per capita of $10,421 - can move from democracy to authoritarianism with relative ease.

As Erdogan has proved time and again since 2003.

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First published: 7 May 2016, 9:16 IST
Aleesha Matharu @almatharu

Born in Bihar, raised in Delhi and schooled in Dehradun, Aleesha writes on a range of subjects and worked at The Indian Express before joining Catch as a sub-editor. When not at work you can find her glued to the TV, trying to clear a backlog of shows, or reading her Kindle. Raised on a diet of rock 'n' roll, she's hit occasionally by wanderlust. After an eight-year stint at Welham Girls' School, Delhi University turned out to be an exercise in youthful rebellion before she finally trudged her way to J-school and got the best all-round student award. Now she takes each day as it comes, but isn't an eternal optimist.