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Turkey looks to Erdogan’s future 1 octobre 2012

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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Financial Times (UK) Monday, October 1, 2012, p. 7

By Daniel Dombey in Istanbul and Funja Guler in Ankara

Prime minister is set on presidency. Uncertainty mounts over next leaders. Recep Tayyip Erdogan began his long goodbye as modern Turkey’s most powerful prime minister in a showpiece speech yesterday that celebrated almost a decade in office but which he gave at a time of -challenges.

In an emotional address lasting two and a half hours, Mr Erdogan said he would stick to his promise to step down as prime minister and leader of the ruling Justice and Development party at the end of the current parliamentary term, while alluding to his ambition to become the country’s first directly elected president.

« This is a break – due not to tiredness but to keeping a promise, » he said, before an audience of thousands, including foreign leaders, at a party congress. « If God keeps me alive we will have other missions. »

Since his Islamist-rooted party, known by its Turkish initials as the AKP, won power in 2002, Mr Erdogan has established the supremacy of civilian government, presided over living standards that have tripled in dollar terms and sought to resolve the country’s perennial Kurdish problem.

But the context has changed amid doubts about the prime minister’s future role. Mr Erdogan is struggling to contend with domestic challenges, including violence by Kurdish militants , tensions within the government and slower economic growth.

In his speech, he announced his determination to solve the Kurdish issue, building on his comments last week signalling that the government could negotiate with Abdullah Ocalan , the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party.

The prime minister also set a target of 5 per cent growth for 2013 and 2014 – less than the 8 per cent for 2010 and 2011 but higher than the current 3 per cent.

But the centre of attention was his personal destiny and what kind of government he would leave behind.

Posters throughout Turkey advertised the congress with a slogan that showed the extent of Mr Erdogan’s ambition and the time span of his plans: « Great nation, great power: target 2023. »

That is a reference to the centenary of the founding of the Turkish republic and is the year when Mr Erdogan could be serving as a second-term president, assuming he wins the inaugural election for the post set for 2014.

However, uncertainty reigns after a decade in which Mr Erdogan has dominated politics. As one of his deputy prime ministers said last week, the party’s leadership succession is open and many leading figures are also leaving office, bound by the same rules under which Mr Erdogan is stepping down.

Internal splits are growing. Last week, two economy ministers publicly feuded over whether fiscal and monetary policy should be loosened. The supporters of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamist preacher who has been close to the AKP in the past, have also signalled dismay with the government over several issues.

« Erdogan really has to prepare who is coming after him. As the end of his time as prime minister is approaching, we can already see the little boys beginning to play, » says Atilla Yesilada, an Istanbul-based consultant.

Moreover, the post to which Mr Erdogan aspires does not yet exist. Turkey’s political parties are in talks to replace the military-era constitution. Mr Erdogan wants to include provisions for a more powerful executive or semi-executive presidency, along the lines of the US or France.

Some commentators wonder whether Mr Erdogan is anticipating such a role ahead of time. « When you look at it today, Erdogan is already a president, » said Mehmet Ali Birand, a Turkish commentator. « Whatever he wants is done. »


Guests highlight AKP’s global role

Attending the AKP congress in Ankara was a guest list designed to highlight the party’s place in the world, writes Daniel Dombey .

Among the foreign invitees were Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s president, below; Masoud Barzani, head of the Kurdish region of Iraq; Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor; and Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas.

Mr Morsi’s attendance was a sign of the improved ties between Turkey and Egypt since the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, the former president.

Mr Barzani’s presence caps a transformed relationship between Ankara and the Iraqi Kurds – on the verge of conflict five years ago but now close in political, economic and business terms.

Mr Schröder, who unlike his successor, Angela Merkel, is a champion of Turkey’s entry into the EU, served as a reminder of a more promising era of EU-Turkey ties.

But by far the biggest cheer was for Mr Meshaal.


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