Erdogan picks close aide as prime minister
Istanbul - Less than three weeks after he pushed Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu from office, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan selected a close aide as the new head of the ruling party and the government in a bid to secure absolute presidential rule.
Transport Minister Binali Yildirim, a staunch Erdogan supporter who enjoys the president’s trust, is the only candidate to take over from Davutoglu as chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at a special party congress. As the new AKP leader, Yildirim will also become Turkey’s prime minister.
In a short televised address to party members after winning his party’s nomination on May 19th, Yildirim said he would work in “total harmony” with Erdogan, whom he called “our leader”.
He vowed to defeat the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been battling security forces since 1984. “We will take the terrorist affliction off Turkey’s agenda,” he said.
As AKP leader and prime minister, Yildirim will be under Erdogan’s close watch as the president takes centre stage, despite Turkey’s constitution foreseeing a largely ceremonial role for the head of state. Observers say Yildirim is the perfect candidate to work under Erdogan because he is completely loyal to the president. “The new Turkish PM is an impeccable technocrat — and an impeccable yes-man to President Erdogan,” political commentator Mustafa Akyol posted on Twitter.
AKP spokesman Omer Celik, announcing Yildirim as the anointed new party chief and prime minister, made it clear that ultimate power rested with Erdogan. He said there was “not even a millimetre of distance between AKP cadres and our president”.
Yildirim, 60, who has an engineering degree in ship-building, is among the co-founders of the AKP and served as transport minister from 2002-13 before running unsuccessfully to become mayor of the western Turkish city of Izmir. Following his defeat, Yildirim became an official adviser to Erdogan before returning to his ministerial post in 2015.
The CNN-Turk news channel reported that Yildirim received 80% of votes, followed by Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag and government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus, in a test poll among 766 AKP provincial leaders and lawmakers.
Earlier reports indicated that Erdogan’s son in-law, Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, was also on the shortlist but a government source said Albayrak was not a leading candidate. Some media reported that Albayrak was in the running for a top post involving the economy in a Yildirim cabinet.
The AKP’s special congress was called after Davutoglu announced his resignation on May 5th. Davutoglu withdrew from the posts of prime minister and AKP chairman after facing resistance from Erdogan supporters in the party leadership.
Observers said Erdogan forced Davutoglu to resign because he wavered in his support for Erdogan’s plan to turn Turkey into a presidential republic. The president wants Yildirim to engineer the system change from the current parliamentary to a presidential rule as quickly as possible.
The party congress is also to elect new members to the AKP’s top decision-making body, the 50-member Central Decision and Executive Board. Some reports predicted the board would be purged of members loyal to Davutoglu. At least four cabinet ministers with close ties to Davutoglu are expected to be replaced as well.
After the party congress, Erdogan will formally ask the new AKP leader to form a government, officially ending Davutoglu’s tenure as prime minister.
The fact that the choice of who is to become the new AKP chief and the new prime minister comes down to Erdogan’s wishes shows that, for all practical purposes, power in Turkey has already passed from parliament to the president.
Erdogan became Turkey’s first directly elected president in 2014 and ever since the president and his supporters have argued the current system is broken because it features a “double head”, with both the prime minister and the head of state legitimised by direct popular vote.
Erdogan says the only way to fix this is to give the president more executive power. The opposition argues the plan could result in the emergence of an authoritarian regime without proper checks and balances.
Following Davutoglu’s removal, Erdogan moved quickly to assert control of Turkey’s foreign policy, an area traditionally controlled by the cabinet rather than the president.
Erdogan said he does not accept some of the European Union’s conditions that Turkey has to fulfil to gain visa-free travel for its citizens in Europe. Among the criteria, accepted by Davutoglu earlier this year but rejected by Erdogan, is a demand to change Turkey’s anti-terror laws. The EU says the laws are drafted in a way that allows the persecution of non-violent government critics.
“Since when have you been governing the country?” Erdogan asked in a May 12th speech, in reference to EU leaders. “Who gave you that authority?”
The European Union says visa restrictions for Turks will remain in place if Ankara does not fulfil all 72 criteria laid down by the bloc. Turkey has put in place laws and decrees that cover most of those conditions but Erdogan says he will not budge on the issue of the anti-terror laws.