ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday appointed one of his most trusted allies to form Turkey’s new government, in a move seen to help consolidate his hold on power.
Binali Yildirim, the transportation and communications minister and a founding member of the ruling party, was tapped to replace Ahmet Davutoglu who stepped down amid growing differences with Erdogan, including his wish to overhaul the constitution to give the largely ceremonial presidency executive powers.
Yildirim has said he would work to legalize the “de facto” presidential system by introducing a new constitution to that effect.
The appointment of the 60-year-old politician came hours after the ruling party confirmed him as party chairman, and he immediately expressed allegiance to the Turkish leader, vowing to follow his path. Davutoglu remains caretaker premier until Yildirim forms a new Cabinet.
“Our path is the path of the voice and the breath of the people, our party’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” Yildirim said in a speech to thank delegates who voted overwhelmingly earlier on Sunday to endorse him as the new chairman of the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
“We have always proudly said that we are Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s companion, that we share a common fate and a common passion,” Yildirim said. “Mr. President, we promise you that your passion will be our passion, your cause will be our cause, your path will be our path.”
In a message read at the opening of the convention, Erdogan again stressed his wish for a new constitution, which he said would help correct the current “skewed” system of administration. Delegates and party officials stood up as his message was read.
“My legal bond with the AKP may have ended the day I took the (presidential) oath of office, but my bonds of love have never ended and never will,” Erdogan said.
Supporters credit Yildirim for his role in developing major infrastructure projects which have helped buoy Turkey’s economy and boost the party’s popularity. But critics, including the leader of the main opposition party, have accused him of corruption. Yildirim has rejected the accusation.
The change in party leadership comes at a time when NATO member Turkey is facing an array of security threats including renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels in the southeast, a wave of suicide bombings linked to Kurdish and Islamic State militants, as well as growing blowback from the war in neighbouring Syria.
The transition also coincides with growing tensions with the European Union over a controversial deal to reduce the flow of illegal migrants from Turkey to Greece, which Davutoglu helped broker.
Davutoglu, a one-time adviser to Erdogan and a former foreign minister, fell out with the president over several issues including the possibility of peace talks with Kurdish rebels, and the pre-trial detention of journalists accused of spying and academics accused of supporting terrorism.
Erdogan is pushing for a broader definition of terrorism, alarming rights groups who say existing laws are already too widely interpreted to crush dissent. His stance is also at odds with EU conditions for Turkish citizens to benefit from visa-free travel.
In his speech, Yildirim said Turkey would press ahead with operations against Kurdish rebels until the group’s armed campaign comes to an end, and he called on the EU to end “the confusion” over Turkey’s membership bid and the migration deal.
“It is time we know what they think about Turkey,” Yildirim said. “Whether Turkey becomes a member or not, it will continue to expand its democracy and development with determination.”
In his farewell speech, Davutoglu said resigning was not his wish but that he agreed to it to preserve the unity of the party.