Erdogan picks close aide as prime minister

Sunday 22/05/2016
Binali Yildirim, Turkey’s current transportation minister and founding member of the AKP, Turkey’s governing party, attends a meeting in Ankara, on May 19th.

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.