Erdogan ally Binali Yildirim appointed Turkey′s new PM | News | DW | 22.05.2016
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Erdogan ally Binali Yildirim appointed Turkey's new PM

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has appointed Binali Yildirim as the new prime minister. Yildirim is viewed as a pliant figure for President Erdogan's authoritarian ambitions.

Binali Yildirim took over as the country's new premier on Sunday, shortly after he was elected the ruling AKP party's chief.

Upon assuming the new position, Yildirim said he would prioritize Erdogan's preferred transition into a presidential system during his tenure.

Earlier on Sunday, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) confirmed the former transport minister and longtime ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the new chairman in an uncontested election.

Shortly after Ahmet Davutoglu resigned from the premier's position. Davutoglu announced he would step down earlier this month amid reported differences with Erdogan. But those differences appear to have been pushed under the rug, with Davutoglu saying on Sunday that he wanted to uphold unity within the party despite his "wish not to leave so soon."

Yildirim, 60, has been the country's transportation minister for nearly a decade and a half, carrying out large-scale infrastructure projects that helped buoy the economy and distribute patronage to businesses with ties to the ruling party. The opposition accuses Yildirim of corruption - charges he denies.

Repeating the AKP mantra to provide services, Yildirim told party delegates the country's most important "priority" was to turn Turkey into a presidential system with Erdogan as its head.

"What has to be a priority now is moving from the current de facto system to a legal system," he said.

A technocrat, he is believed to be the pliant yes-man Erdogan needs to push through constitutional changes to turn Turkey's presidency from a largely ceremonial position into one with executive powers.

Erdogan has already de facto - but not de jure - turned the traditionally ceremonial position of the presidency into a vehicle of his personal power ambitions to be head of state, leader of the party and symbol of the nation with few checks or balances.

As a founding member of the AKP, Erdogan has trampled on the constitutional requirement that the president be a neutral figure not tied to any party. That the lines between the president and party have been blurred or simply ignored were again on clear display at the AKP congress, with banners of Yildirim, Erdogan and the AKP symbol ever present.

Erdogan was not present at the congress, but when his message was read to the party calling for a change in the constitution and an executive system, all delegates rose to their feet in a sign of his overriding authority.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, who is tasked with upholding the constitution, flatly said at the party congress, "The AKP is Tayyip's (Erdogan's) party. This party has only one leader, Tayyip Erdogan."

Aykan Erdemir, a former member of parliament for the opposition CHP, quipped that the stand to attention for Erdogan resembled leadership worship in North Korea.

Erdogan's critics accuse him of authoritarianism and undermining democracy in the strategic country, which Europe is relying on to help resolve the refugee crisis facing the continent and the United States needs to defeat the so-called "Islamic State."

To send constitutional changes to a referendum, the AKP needs a three-fifths majority in parliament, a number it is short by a few seats. It needs two-thirds support in parliament for straight approval.

To overcome the vote deficit, the AKP will either have to call new elections, poach votes from a divided opposition, or expel lawmakers from the 550 seat parliament.

Yildirim's unchallenged election comes days after parliament voted tolift the immunity of mostly Kurdish deputies on claims they support terrorism.

The move is likely to exacerbate already raging violence between security forces and Kurdish militants as well as undermine the EU-Turkey migrant deal. It may also give the AKP the seats Erdogan needs to change the constitution.

Norbert Lammert, president of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, accused Erdogan earlier this week of harboring "autocratic ambitions."

Chancellor Angela Merkel is reported to be concerned about the lifting of immunity and will bring the issue up with Erdogan when she is in Istanbul for a humanitarian conference on Monday.

Erdogan and Yildirim have said they will not change Turkey's sweeping anti-terror laws and have vowed to not to resume peace negotiations with Kurdish rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Turkey's position on lifting immunity and resistance to changing its anti-terror laws is a major stumbling block for the EU-Turkey migrant deal, part of which stipulates visa-free travel to the EU for Turkish citizens in exchange for Ankara's cooperation to stem migrants.

Yildirim also faces a blowback from Syria, economic clouds on the horizon and a highly polarized political environment.

cw/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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