Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday approved a new government formed by one of his most trusted allies, who immediately asserted his intention to institute constitutional reforms that would expand the powers of the presidency.
Binali Yildirim, 60, formerly minister of transport and communications, replaces Ahmet Davutoglu, who stepped down on Sunday amid a range of differences with the president, including Davutoglu’s apparently less-than-enthusiastic stance toward an overhaul of the constitution to give the largely ceremonial presidency executive powers.
“We will immediately start work to achieve a new constitution, including a presidential system,” Yildirim told lawmakers of his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in his first speech after taking office.
“Our priority is to make the constitution in harmony with the de-facto situation regarding our president’s ties to the people,” Yildirim said.
Many fear the presidential system that Erdogan seeks will concentrate too many powers in the hands of the Turkish strongman, who has adopted an increasing authoritarian style of governing, has cracked down on media and government critics and is accused of meddling in the running of the government in breach of the constitution.
The new government — which Yildirim is widely believed to have formed in consultation with Erdogan — includes nine new names, although most ministers from Davutoglu’s previous Cabinet retained key portfolios.
They include Mevlut Cavusoglu, who remains foreign minister, and Mehmet Simsek, the deputy minister who heads economic affairs.
Volkan Bozkir, the minister in charge of relations with the European Union, was replaced by Omer Celik, a founding member of the AKP who is known to be close to the president. Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, kept his position as energy minister.
In a clear sign that Erdogan would continue to influence government, he was scheduled to chair the new Cabinet’s first meeting at his palace on Wednesday.
Domestically, the political reshuffling takes place as Turkey faces serious security threats including increased attacks by Kurdish and Islamic State terrorists. It also comes as parliament is in disarray after a government-backed constitutional amendment has left 138 lawmakers vulnerable to prosecution.
Internationally, Turkey is also facing a delicate moment in its relations with the European Union. The implementation of a Turkey-EU deal to help stem the influx of migrants to Europe — which Davutoglu had helped negotiate — has repeatedly come into question.
Erdogan has warned that the migrant deal could collapse if the Europeans renege on their pledges to grant Turkish citizens the right to visa-free travel. The EU says Ankara must meet all of the EU’s conditions to secure visa-free travel, including narrowing the definition of “terrorist” — which Erdogan says is out of the question.
Yildirim has served as transport and communications minister since 2002 with a short interruption in 2015. The engineering-trained politician who is a founding member of the ruling party, has been credited for his role in developing major infrastructure projects that have helped buoy Turkey’s economy and boost the party’s popularity.
Critics, including the leader of the main opposition party, have accused him of corruption — an accusation Yildirim rejects.