ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu re-appointed the former head of Turkey’s intelligence service to his post on Monday, hours after the top spy abandoned plans to run for parliament in an apparent victory for President Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan had opposed Hakan Fidan’s plans, announced a month ago, to be a candidate for their ruling AK Party in Turkey’s parliamentary election in June.
Erdogan, required by the constitution to remain above party politics as head of state, said he did “not view Fidan’s candidacy positively,” but acknowledged it was a matter for Davutoglu to decide.
Fidan, seen by some as a possible future foreign minister, gave no reason for the withdrawal of his candidacy.
“On the path of service to my nation and my people, I will always try to properly fulfill the duties entrusted to me,” he said in a brief statement.
Two hours later, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told reporters following a cabinet meeting that Davutoglu had already re-appointed Fidan to head the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT).
A source in Davutoglu’s office said the prime minister had discussed Fidan’s withdrawal from the election race with Erdogan and had approved it.
Erdogan, elected president last August after serving more than a decade as prime minister, has made little secret of his determination to keep a firm grip on politics.
On Monday he chaired his second cabinet meeting since becoming head of state, breaking with a tradition which saw previous incumbents perform a largely ceremonial role.
Erdogan wants the AK Party to secure a stronger majority in June in order to help push constitutional changes through parliament and forge a full-fledged presidential system in Turkey, where currently the prime minister holds more power.
Fidan was one of Erdogan’s closest confidants as head of intelligence. Had he entered parliament and the cabinet, he would have been seen as a powerful ally to the prime minister and a potential counterweight to Erdogan’s grip.
Although they have maintained a united facade, strains have started to show between Erdogan and Davutoglu.
Davutoglu was in New York last week trying to reassure investors after Erdogan’s strident criticism of the central bank unnerved markets.
Erdogan’s comment on Friday that he would be happy to see former president Abdullah Gul back in the AK Party also pointed to apparent tensions.
“Erdogan is trying to find ways to enforce his power over the party he established in order to secure support for his strong presidential model,” wrote Hurriyet Daily News editor Murat Yetkin.
“But those moves could put further strain on the ruling party.”
Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul and Jonny Hogg in Ankara; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Gareth Jones