ANKARA - Turkey’s ruling party is due to meet on Thursday to agree on a new leader and prime minister to replace incoming president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu the frontrunner for the job.
Erdogan, who has dominated Turkey’s political scene for 11 years as prime minister, cut short his holiday to attend the executive committee meeting of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to decide on his successor.
The press has been abuzz for days with reports that Davutoglu was favoured for promotion to become prime minister under Erdogan’s presidency, which begins on August 28. Outgoing President Abdullah Gul appeared to leave the issue in no doubt, saying on Tuesday: “As far I understand, Ahmet Davutoglu will be the next head of government.”
After winning the August 10 election, Erdogan has been keeping the pulse of the party, asking members to put forward their nominees for AKP leader and prime minister in anonymous polls, and the results revealed overwhelming support for Davutoglu.
“Up to 80 percent of party members have voted for Davutoglu during intra-party polls,” a government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.  Davutoglu has been loyal to Erdogan as an advisor before being promoted to the job of foreign minister in 2009. He enjoyed an elite Western-style education and is fluent in several languages but emerged as the chief architect and ideologue of Turkey’s assertive foreign policy under Erdogan.
Criticised as neo-Ottoman or even neo-Islamic by some academics, the core of Davutoglu’s policy has been to make Turkey a world power projecting its influence across the region.
But while Turkey’s importance has unquestionably grown in the last years, critics say the policy has left Ankara isolated and surrounded by crisis-torn countries whose problems are spilling over the border.
“One would wish that the office of prime minister is built upon achievements, not failures. Today Davutoglu is a man regarded more with criticism than praise,” said Aykan Erdemir, lawmaker of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
As president, Erdogan is widely expected to wield great influence over his party in the run-up to the 2015 parliamentary polls.
CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, told Today’s Zaman newspaper that Turkey was heading to a “new era of puppet prime ministers”. “Nobody believes Davutoglu will run the government with his own vision but under the tutelage and directives from the president,” Erdemir told AFP. “This will bring Turkey closer to authoritarianism than democracy.”
Erdogan has vowed to break with the tradition of ceremonial presidencies in Turkey and be a powerful head of state who will use powers that have lain latent for years such as chairing cabinet meetings.
Davutoglu’s nomination would pave the way for a wider shake-up of Turkish politics that is expected to follow Erdogan’s inauguration on August 28.
Turkish media reports have predicted a cabinet packed with Erdogan allies, in an indication the new president plans to keep a tight control over government.
In a notable move, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), Hakan Fidan, a staunch Erdogan ally, is tipped to take over from Davutoglu as foreign minister.
Closely watched will be the future of Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, the government’s economic pointman who markets see as a guarantee of sensible economic policies.
Gul himself had been seen as a candidate for the premiership but commentators believe that the AKP has deliberately timed the succession process to take place before he leaves office so he cannot take part.
The outgoing president was a co-founder of the AKP with Erdogan but strains have become more apparent between the two men, with Gul taking a more moderate line than the combative premier.
The extent of his bitterness was hinted at on Tuesday by his wife Hayrunnisa who complained her husband had been the victim of “many falsehoods and a great deal of disrespect”.