ISTANBUL — Turkey’s prime minister stepped down Thursday, possibly paving the way for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to consolidate power amid complaints from opponents over his increasingly hard-line policies.
The decision by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to bow out of upcoming elections marks another potential step by Erdogan to move Turkey toward a presidential system and reduce the powers of parliament — further cementing the president’s authority and probably stirring more outrage from rights groups and other critics.
Erdogan has taken an increasingly hard line against perceived opponents, including prosecuting journalists and others for “insulting” him.
Davutoglu is said to have been less enthusiastic about the push toward a stronger executive, putting him more at odds with Erdogan.
“I decided to step down from my post,” Davutoglu said after meeting with leaders from the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has governed Turkey since 2002. “I am not planning to become a candidate in the upcoming [party] elections.”
The party congress to replace Davutoglu, who became prime minister in 2014, will be held May 22, local media reported.
His resignation comes as Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, faces multiple crises, including a raging Kurdish insurgency, attacks from Islamic State militants and negotiations with the European Union over how to handle migration flows over the Aegean Sea.
Davutoglu, a former professor, led the discussions with E.U. leaders to secure a deal that would have migrants returned to Turkey in exchange for aid and visa-free travel for Turks in Europe.
But his relationship with Erdogan had grown increasingly strained. The two disagreed over much, such as economic policy and pretrial detention for dissidents.
In a surprise move last week, the AKP stripped Davutoglu of his power to appoint provincial-level party officials. In a news conference Thursday, he cited the blow as a key reason for his resignation, calling it “not behavior I would expect from fellow colleagues.”
Davutoglu said that he will remain loyal to Erdogan and that he will stay in the AKP as a deputy.
“You will not hear one negative word from me about our president,” Davutoglu said, warning against “speculation” over deepening rifts.
But others saw the his resignation Thursday as an ominous sign of the direction of Turkish politics.
“Turkey’s ‘nonpartisan’ president staged a palace coup by unseating at his whim the ruling AKP’s leader who received 49.5% in Nov. elections,” Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, posted on Twitter.
“What’s coming to an end today is not only Davutoglu’s failed political career,” Erdemir wrote, “but also Turkey’s parliamentary democracy.”