Turkey’s Premier Has One Goal: To Undermine His Own Power

  • Yildirim vows to ‘legalize’ President Erdogan’s de facto rule
  • New PM was transport minister for most of AK Party’s 14 years

Turkey’s Prime Minister-designate Binali Yildirim has one mission: expand President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s power at the expense of his own office.

QuickTake Turkey’s Continental Divide

Yildirim, speaking at the ruling AK Party’s extraordinary congress to elect him as its new boss, said he will seek to change the constitution to transfer the center of power to the presidency instead of parliament. He succeeds Ahmet Davutoglu, who announced his resignation this month after failing to assert his authority against Erdogan.

One of the most powerful figures in Turkey’s modern history, the convention at the Ankara Arena sports center showed Erdogan’s hold over the AKP even after severing official ties when he became president in 2014 following more than a decade as premier. More than 10,000 supporters were welcomed by a 45-foot tall effigy of the president flying overhead as they chanted a song with Erdogan’s name as a refrain.

Gaining Momentum

Yildirim, an Erdogan loyalist, said in a speech he unequivocally supported the push to enshrine the president’s de facto powers in the constitution. The campaign has gained momentum since Davutoglu’s departure, and speculation whether other party leaders allied with the outgoing premier such as economy czar Mehmet Simsek would keep their jobs has battered Turkish assets.

“Our respected president, we give you our word: your love is ours, your cause is ours, your path is ours,” Yildirim said. “Our president is in love with Turkey.”

The congress was held under the slogan “Continuing on the Sacred Path.” Before Yildirim was voted as the new party leader, the crowd stood as they silently listened to a letter from the president, who later officially asked his ally to form a government.

One Hand

Nurettin Canikli, one of AK Party’s parliamentary whips, told NTV television on Sunday that Turkey needs to “consolidate authority in one hand,” before the congress called to elect the party’s third chief since its founding in 2001. “This convention marks the de facto materialization of a semi-presidential system.”

Yildirim’s stint as party chief may also be short-lived. Burhan Kuzu, a senior AKP lawmaker, said this month the ruling party will push in June for a “mini-constitutional change package” that will allow Erdogan to return as its leader.

Erdogan picked Davutoglu to succeed him when he decided to run for president. A power struggle followed as the former foreign minister sought to exercise his authority as head of the executive branch. The standoff unfolded at a time when Turkey is facing increased attacks from Islamic State militants as well as a surge in clashes between government forces and the autonomy-seeking Kurdish group PKK.

The lira has declined by 6 percent this month, falling to as low as 3.0008 per dollar on Thursday, within 3 percent of the record. The Borsa Istanbul 100 index plunged 16 percent in dollar terms in the month, the most among major stock markets worldwide. The yield on the nation’s 10-year debt rose by more than 1 percentage point to 10.29 percent as of the close last week.

“As it has become the norm in Turkey lately, Yildirim’s primary qualification for the positions of AKP leader and PM is not his ability, but his servility to the president,” Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence in London, said in a May 19 report. “The overriding priority of the new PM and his cabinet will be to introduce an executive presidency as desired by Erdogan.”

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