Erdogan anoints Davotoglu as Turkey’s new PM

By bne IntelliNews August 22, 2014

David O'Byrne in Istanbul -


Turkey's president elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan nominated Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as his successor as prime minister and head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on August 21. There was little doubt as to Erdogan’s choice to head the government, but questions still surround the composition of the new cabinet - and in particular whether the existing economic team of Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan and Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek, favoured by the international markets, will keep their jobs.

As the most loyal of Erdogan loyalists in a cabinet not noted for disloyalty, Davutoglu's appointment had been widely rumoured since Erdogan’s election as the country's new president on August 10. But it took a typically long and strident speech by Erdogan to formalise what promises to be not so much a handover of power as a confirmation that power still lies very much with Erdogan.

Technically at least Davutoglu still has to be formally appointed and his current position of nominated successor to the leadership of the AKP, and hence prime minister, has to be formalised through election by an AKP congress scheduled for August 27.

A little known academic, Davutoglu has risen to what is - nominally at least - the top job in Turkish politics. Following the AKP's 2002 election victory, he worked as an advisor to both Erdogan and Turkey’s then foreign minister Abdullah Gul, and was subsequently appointed foreign minister in 2009 when Gul was elected president, despite not at the time being a member of the Turkish parliament.

A bad neighbour

As foreign minister, Davutoglu made an immediate mark by declaring a new era in Turkish foreign policy which he famously dubbed "zero problems with the neighbours".

Even ignoring the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, this policy could hardly be described as a success. Frequently derided as being better described as Turkey's "zero neighbour" policy, relations with the majority of Turkey's neighbours are now arguably far worse than when Davutoglu was appointed.

His other foreign policy initiatives have been markedly unsuccessful. Efforts at brokering a nuclear deal between Iran and the west in 2010-2012 ended in abject failure. Despite Ankara's repeated insistence that the Ahmedinejad regime was acting in earnest, it took regime change in Tehran, and Turkish involvement, for Iran and the west to reach an accommodation. Most worryingly, Turkey appears intent on wasting the best opportunity yet for a lasting settlement in Cyprus due to its intransigence over the discovery of gas in the Cypriot sector of the Mediterranean. And in the whole of the Middle East, Turkey's only remaining friend appears to be the tiny gas rich state of Qatar - a close ally, but apparently not close enough to sell Turkey liquefied natural gas (LNG) on a long term contract, insisting instead on spot market prices.

But it is Davutoglu's record on Syria and Iraq that is likely to come under most scrutiny, and to prompt questions as to just how well Davutoglu understands what is happening in the region.

Having announced two years ago that the Syrian civil war would be over in a matter of "weeks" and that he would be praying with "free Syrians" in Damascus, Davutoglu compounded his apparent misunderstanding of events by describing the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS and ISIL) militants as "angry young people". This description has done little to dispel frequently repeated allegations that Turkey has had closer relations with the militants than has yet been admitted.

In an interview this week with Turkish English language daily Today's Zaman, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), alleged that Erdogan's government had been covertly supporting IS insurgents in Syria and Iraq.

“Camps were set up to train them. Truckloads of arms were sent," he said, claiming that weapons seized heading for the Syrian and Iraqi borders were being sent to IS and not to Iraqi Turkmens as the government has claimed.

“Now that terror has come back and hit Turkey," he added, pointing to the Turkish consular staff in Mosul who have been held hostage by IS for over two months and questioning why the Turkish government has still not condemned IS as terrorists. “The whole world is calling IS terrorists. Yet we can't say so,” he said.

New cabinet

In the short term though, it is the shape of Davutoglu's cabinet that will be of most concern, not least due to rumours that the cabinet will be selected not by Davutoglu himself but by Erdogan and will consist mainly of close Erdogan confidantes.  

Unconfirmed reports suggest that Babacan and Simsek may keep their jobs in an effort to avoid scaring investors. Although the pair are far from being Erdogan loyalists, they are widely trusted by the markets.

Rumours that Erdogan wanted to replace Babacan with his chief economic advisor Yigit Bulut have done little to help boost confidence in the Turkish economy or improve Turkey's somewhat tarnished international image. At various times over the past two years Bulut has claimed that Turkey's enemies were using "telekinesis" to try to attack Erdogan because he "had made Turkey a model for the world", and that Turkey no longer needs Europe - that's the same Europe to which the majority of Turkey's exports are sold.

Otherwise Hakan Fidan, head of Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT) has been mentioned as a possible foreign minister, an appointment which would be interesting not least because Fidan is not an elected deputy and would be the first intelligence chief to hold a cabinet position.

One prominent figure who will not be given a post though is outgoing president Abdullah Gul, who if media reports are to be believed has not yet been allowed to rejoin the AKP, the party he founded in partnership with Erdogan in 2001.

Relations between the two are these days rumoured to be far from friendly, possibly not least because of Gul's stated opposition to any changes to Turkey's constitution which would allow the president to play an active role in politics - changes that Erdogan has hinted he wants to make, and which a pliant, supportive cabinet headed by Davutoglu would be unlikely to oppose.

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