ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey’s experienced transport minister Binali Yildirim, a steadfast ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was named ruling party chief Sunday, May 22, and was set to be also appointed as prime minister in moves further consolidating the Turkish strongman’s grip on power.
Yildirim, 60, vowed at an extraordinary ruling party congress that anointed him to make a priority out of implementing Erdogan’s controversial plan for a presidential system to enshrine his status as the Turkish number one.
He replaces Ahmet Davutoglu, a former foreign minister who promoted his own ambitious agenda but threw in the towel after a power struggle with Erdogan.
Yildirim was the only candidate at the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) congress in Ankara, receiving 1,405 votes from 1,470 delegates present.
In a carefully-choreographed sequence of events, Erdogan is due later Sunday to hand Yildirim the mandate of prime minister, with a new government expected to be formed in the next days.
By AKP convention, the posts of premier and ruling party chief are held by the same person.
Analysts expect Yildirim to be a more pliant figure for Erdogan than Davutoglu, as the head of state presses on with his plan to create the presidential system.
“Turkey needs a new constitution. Are you ready to bring in a presidential system?” Yildirim told the congress to cheers from the crowds, saying this was the way to end the current “confusion”.
Erdogan first came to power as prime minister in 2003, switching to the presidency in 2014. If he seeks a second presidential mandate in 2019, he could stay in power until 2024.
Transport minister for almost all of the last one-and-a-half decades, Yildirim has been Erdogan’s pointman for the implementation of his grandiose road and rail infrastructure projects.
“There appears to be more harmony” between Yildirim and the president than in the Davutoglu era, Deniz Zeyrek, the Ankara bureau chief of the Hurriyet daily, told Agence France-Presse at the congress.
He will be just the third party chairman in the history of the AKP – which has transformed Turkey by putting Islam at the forefront of the officially secular country’s politics – after Erdogan and Davutoglu.
Not known for charisma, Yildirim made a glitzy entrance in front of thousands at the congress, clad in football scarves and throwing carnations into the crowds to the sound of thumping Turkish pop music.
However his speech was marred by a hoarse voice as he seemed unaccustomed to the challenge of addressing such a vast audience.
Erdogan was not at the congress, with existing rules stipulating the head of state should not be a member of a party, something the president may want to change in a new constitution.
But Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag made no secret of who he thought was the guiding light of the AKP, saying: “The AK Party is Tayyip’s party.”
In a message from Erdogan read by Bozdag, the president said “the bonds of my heart with you have never and will never be cut.”
Despite rumors he is privately deeply embittered over his exit, Davutoglu also addressed the congress as the AKP sought to put on a show of unity.
“It is not a congress of farewell but loyalty,” Davutoglu said. “The AK Party’s unity is more important than anything for me.”
Divisions between Davutoglu and Erdogan had been boiling for months over a series of issues including the presidential system and an accord with the EU on migrants.
Erdogan’s critics have accused him of authoritarianism, pointing to prosecutions of journalists along with a highly controversial bill adopted by parliament on Friday that would lift immunity for dozens of pro-Kurdish and other MPs and could see them evicted from parliament.
Heading on a visit to Turkey, German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced “great concern” over recent political developments in the country.
‘End EU confusion’
Another critical task facing the new prime minister will be to negotiate with the European Union on a crunch visa deal, a key plank of an accord aimed at easing the EU’s migrant crisis.
The deal has been in jeopardy over Ankara’s reluctance to alter its counter-terror laws, a requirement of the agreement.
“There is one thing that needs to be done by the European Union. This confusion over Turkey’s full membership and the migrant issue has to be brought to an end,” Yildirim said.
Both Erdogan and Yildirim are strongly opposed to resuming talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Kurdish militant group that has killed hundreds of members of the security forces since a two-year-long ceasefire collapsed in 2015.
“Operations will continue uninterrupted until the PKK terrorist organization – whose hands are in blood – ends its armed actions,” Yildirim said. – Fulya Ozerkan, AFP / Rappler.com