With prospective change of premier, Turkey’s Erdogan aims at stronger presidency – Reuters

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ANKARA/ISTANBUL Turkey could face an early general election this year after the prospective removal of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, unnerving investors and testing relations with Europe as President Tayyip Erdogan accelerates his drive for a stronger presidency.

The ruling AK Party is set to replace Davutoglu as its leader, and therefore as premier, at an extraordinary congress in the coming weeks, five senior party officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

Davutoglu had offered only lukewarm support for Erdogan’s vision of a stronger presidency and the decision to remove him follows weeks of tensions. His successor is likely to be more willing to back Erdogan’s aim of changing the constitution to create a presidential system, a move that opponents say will bring growing authoritarianism.

“Palace Coup!” said the headline in the secularist opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper.

“From now on, Turkey’s sole agenda is the presidential system and an early election,” said Mehmet Ali Kulat, head of the pollster Mak Danismanlik, which is seen as close to Erdogan. He forecast an election in October or November.

Erdogan wants Turkey to be ruled by the head of state, a system he sees as a guarantee against the fractious coalition politics that hampered the government in the 1990s. His opponents say this is merely a vehicle for his own ambition.

“These are critical developments in my mind in Turkey – likely setting the long-term direction of the country, both in terms of democracy, but (also) economic and social policy and geopolitical orientation,” said Timothy Ash, strategist at Nomura and a veteran Turkey watcher.


“Turkey changes as a result to an Asiatic model of development, with strong central control from the presidency, and most key decisions taken by the president and a small group of likely unelected advisers.”

Investors were nervous about the shape of the new government and the prospect that badly-needed economic reforms could be delayed further. The lira weakened and bond yields surged. The BIST 100 index, the broadest measure of Istanbul stocks, was down 1.5 percent at 0935 GMT [.IS].

Presidential adviser Cemil Ertem said the economy would stabilize further when a prime minister more closely aligned with Erdogan took office. He said economic policy would not change, and that no election was likely before the government’s mandate expires in 2019.

But a member of the AKP’s executive board and a second source close to the party both told Reuters that an early parliamentary election in the autumn was now the most likely outcome. The aim would be to win two-thirds of the 550 seats – an increase of 50 on the AKP’s current 317 – to allow the party to change the constitution without the need for a referendum, they said.

“Erdogan will move fast and try to reach enough of a majority for the executive presidency. A party structure and a leader who will design that will be put in place,” the second source said. “He does not want to lose any more time.”

Government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, both Erdogan loyalists, are seen as candidates to replace Davutoglu, three sources close to the presidency said. Transport Minister Binali Yildirim and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law, had also been touted, they said.


The member of the AKP executive board, its main decision-making body, said Bozdag was the favorite and that the question of an early election would hinge on a leadership battle in the nationalist opposition MHP.

MHP leader Devlet Bahceli, a somber 68-year-old, is facing a challenge from Meral Aksener, a 59-year-old woman who served as interior minister in the 1990s.

Some opinion polls suggest Aksener could double the MHP’s support, while under Bahceli it could drop below the 10 percent threshold needed to enter parliament, which would give the AKP a significant boost.

“The most likely alternative is an early election in October,” the AKP board member said. “But if Aksener takes the (MHP) leadership, there may be no election until 2019.”

The AKP is also likely to benefit from a drop in support for the pro-Kurdish HDP, which has lost the backing of some liberal Turks over what the ruling party says are its links to militants fighting an insurgency in the mostly Kurdish southeast.

Early election or not, Davutoglu’s departure is likely to test relations with Europe just as Ankara implements a deal on stemming the flow of illegal migrants in return for accelerated EU accession talks, visa liberalization, and financial aid.

Davutoglu, who negotiated the deal and has largely delivered Turkey’s side of the bargain, is seen in Brussels as the more liberal face of the Turkish government and more concerned about the rule of law.

EU officials involved in the deal were reluctant to be drawn late on Wednesday on the implications of Davutoglu leaving, insisting that Ankara’s existing commitments should not be affected.

(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Daren Butler, Humeyra Pamuk and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

With prospective change of premier, Turkey’s Erdogan aims at stronger presidency – Reuters