ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish president-elect Tayyip Erdogan named Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as his future prime minister on Thursday and said a power struggle with a U.S.-based cleric, a Kurdish peace process and a new constitution would be his top priorities.
Erdogan said the ruling AK Party’s executive board had agreed to nominate Davutoglu as its next leader and, by default, his future premier. The decision must now be endorsed in a party vote next Wednesday, but is unlikely to be opposed.
“If delegates at the congress elect Davutoglu, then he will be the prime minister,” Erdogan told a news conference.
Erdogan’s victory in the country’s first direct ballot for head of state on Aug. 10 marked a turning point for Turkey, taking the European Union candidate nation and NATO member a step closer to the presidential system he has long coveted.
He has made no secret of his ambition to change the constitution and bolster the powers of the presidency, a move opponents fear will herald an increasingly authoritarian rule.
“The new constitution is Turkey’s primary concern. I know that Mr Davutoglu has a high sensitivity in this respect,” Erdogan said after the AK board meeting.
He said Davutoglu’s determination to battle the “parallel state”, a term he uses for Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen’s network of followers, had been a key factor in his nomination.
Erdogan accuses Gulen’s sympathizers of infiltrating institutions including the police and judiciary in an effort to seize the levers of state power, a struggle which has weighed on his final months as prime minister and seen him purge thousands of police officers and hundreds of judges and prosecutors.
His actions have raised concern about judicial independence and drawn criticism from the European Union.
“Be it the struggle against the parallel structure or the (Kurdish) peace process, do not doubt that I will be supporting Mr Davutoglu,” Erdogan said.
The peace process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, aimed at ending a three-decade insurgency, has been one of Erdogan’s biggest achievements in recent years, with hostilities largely dying down since a March 2013 ceasefire.
Events in northern Iraq, where PKK fighters have rushed to the assistance of Kurdish peshmerga forces battling the advance of Islamic State militants, has given the process added urgency.
Erdogan will step down as leader of the AK when he is inaugurated next week, as required by the constitution, but has made clear that he wants the party he co-founded more than 10 years ago to remain loyal and unified.
Davutoglu, 55, an academic who has served as foreign minister for the past five years, rose to political prominence under Erdogan and is regarded as one of his closest allies.
“Erdogan is pretty confident of Davutoglu’s loyalty, and Davutoglu is a candidate whom Erdogan believes has strong popular communication skills,” said Sinan Ulgen, head of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies in Istanbul.
Davutoglu’s profile has risen sharply at home and abroad as foreign minister, initially on the back of his then-praised “zero problems with neighbors” policy and more recently as Erdogan’s right-hand man at AK Party rallies.
He has overseen foreign policy at a turbulent time for the Middle East. Wars in neighboring Iraq and Syria and the Arab Spring uprisings caused his “zero problems” policy to crumble, with ties to Egypt, Syria, Israel, Iraq and Iran all degraded.
Davutoglu is expected to appeal to a newer generation of Erdogan loyalists within the AK Party, which was founded in 2001 as a coalition of conservative religious Muslims, nationalists and center elements.
His ability to garner support among core AK voters will be pivotal if he is to lead the party to a stronger parliamentary majority in a general election next June, vital to Erdogan’s chances of pushing through the constitutional change he needs to bolster the powers of the presidency.
“Davutoglu is not going to be a puppet, he’s going to have his own personality,” said Galip Dalay, a political researcher at the Ankara-based think-tank SETA. “But I cannot remember a single time when he and Erdogan have had a serious policy disagreement. Their vision for Turkey is very close.”
Additional reporting by Jonny Hogg in Ankara, Ece Toksabay and Selin Bucak in Istanbul; Writing by Nick Tattersall and Jonny Hogg; Editing by Mark Heinrich