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Turkey's Davutoglu Expected to Be a Compliant PM

  • Dorian Jones

Turkey's president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sit together during a party meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Aug. 21, 2014.

Turkey's president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sit together during a party meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Aug. 21, 2014.

Ahmet Davutoglu was named Turkey’s new prime minister Thursday, replacing Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is now president-elect.

There was much fanfare in a packed auditorium of supporters and media this week as president-elect Erdogan announced to his ruling AK party that his successor will be foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Political columnist Asli Aydintasbas of the Turkish newspaper Milliyet says one of the first priorities of the new prime minister will be to repair relations with Turkey’s allies and neighbors.

"Turkish relations with the East and West is quite significantly strained. There is also nothing going on with the European Union. We don't have ambassadors in some of the neighboring countries. Things with Baghdad are bad. We actually have a war of words with the Sissi government and no ambassador. Same with Israel. Perhaps with Davutoglu, since he is not as harsh as Erdogan when he speaks, he will try to fine tune the message that comes out of Ankara," said Aydintasbas.

But some analysts say Davutoglu's ability to maneuver is likely to be constrained. When Erdogan ascends to the presidency next week, a position defined by the constitution as non-partisan and largely ceremonial, he has made it clear his intentions to continue to run the country, says political columnist Aydintasbas.

"Tayyip Erdogan is already saying once he becomes the president he is actually going to be in charge of the executive branch. He will be running a lot of things within the government and party," he said.

Erdogan’s control is predicted to extend to even selecting key ministers in Davutoglu's government. This includes the foreign minister, widely tipped to be the current intelligence chief; Hakan Fidan, who Erdogan’s describes as the keeper of his secrets and is seen as one of his closest allies.

International relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, says Davutoglu's power is limited by his standing within the party.

"He is one of the names that party people mention, but it's not an exhilarating enthusiastic support for him. He is around 4 or 5 percent within the party and one percent in the general public," said Ozel.

Earlier this week Davutoglu toured the eastern Black Sea region, a political stronghold for the AK party. He is expected to work hard to build up his image both within the party and country.

That will be important, with general elections due in 10 months.

Constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority in the Turkish parliament, and Davutoglu has pledged to support President-elect Erdogan’s goal of introducing constitutional reform to turn Turkey into a presidential system.

But observers say even though Davutoglu's loyalty was a key factor behind Erdogan’s choice to make him prime minister, some question his wherewithal.

Coming from an obscure impoverished mountain town in southern Turkey, Davutoglu's career has been defined by struggle and self-confidence built on his meteoric rise.

Analyst Ozel says he questions how long Davutoglu will be prepared to be a pliant prime minister to the new president.

"Mr. Erdogan will run the party through proxies. Although, I must say given Mr. Davutoglu's self identification and his own self perception, how long he can tolerate in the shadows is the big question?" He said.

Observers say Davutoglu comes from the ideological side of the ruling AK Party, which is rooted in political Islam and shares similar goals to those of Erdogan. Both are keen on redefining the country by "building a new Turkey." What that new Turkey actually will be remains unclear, but for Erdogan the new prime minister remains key to achieving that vision.

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