ISTANBUL: Turkey’s ruling party named a loyal ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the new prime minister on Thursday, as the strongman seeks to tighten his grip on power.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) appointed Transport Minister Binali Yildirim as its chairman, meaning he will automatically become prime minister.
Yildirim is poised to replace Ahmet Davutoglu, who stepped down after a power struggle with Erdogan.
“We will work in total harmony with all our party comrades at all levels, beginning with our founding president and leader,” said Yildirim, referring to Erdogan, after being named party head.
The 60-year-old Yildirim is seen as one of Erdogan’s closest longtime confidants and has served an almost unbroken stint from 2002 to 2013 as transport minister and then again from 2015.
Analysts expect that Yildirim who has never stepped out of line with the president on a policy issue will prove a far more pliable figure for the president than Davutoglu.
The new prime minister’s main task, observers say, will be to pilot a change in the constitution to transform Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system, placing more power in Erdogan’s hands.
“And now it’s time for the presidential system,” Yildirim said earlier in May just after Davutoglu’s resignation.
After the official appointment expected on Sunday, “the post of prime minister will have changed its meaning,” said Fuat Keyman, head of the Istanbul Policy Center think-tank.
“The president will become the head of the executive. The prime minister will become a functional cog,” Keyman told AFP.
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.
After the announcement of a single candidate, Yildirim will likely be approved as new AKP leader by an extraordinary congress of the party on Sunday.
According to AKP convention, the posts of party chief and head of government automatically go to the same figure.
Erdogan will then give the new AKP leader the mandate to serve as prime minister early next week, after which a new cabinet will be announced.
As a ferry company chief and then as transport minister, Yildirim has for the last two decades worked in the transport sector, an absolutely key area in Turkey which is trying to catch up its lag in infrastructure with vast new projects.
As such, he has been a key lieutenant of Erdogan in implementing what the president likes to call his “crazy” projects to create a “New Turkey”, almost always pictured in the press wearing a hard hat and flourescent jacket.
According to the columnist for the Hurriyet daily Abdulkadir Selvi, the only serious difference between the two men is that Erdogan supports the Fenerbahce football side and Yildirim their arch Istanbul rivals Galatasaray.
Despite the shock of Davutoglu’s announcement earlier this month he was stepping down, the AKP has been keen to show a public front of unity and that business is carrying on as usual.
However financial markets have not appreciated the political uncertainty, with the Turkish lira losing five percent in value against the US dollar over the last month.