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Who is Binali Yildirim, Erdogan ally and Turkey's new prime minister?

Adem Altan / AFP | The new chairman for the AK Party, Binali Yildirim, in Ankara, on May 22, 2016

Turkey's ruling party held a special convention Sunday to confirm Binali Yildirim – a longtime ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – as its new chairman and next prime minister, a move likely to consolidate Erdogan's hold on power.


FRANCE 24 spoke with Hakan Yilmaz, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Bogazici University. He described a “pragmatic” politician who is fiercely loyal to the current president.

FRANCE 24: What can you tell us about Binali Yildirim?

Yildirim is from the provinces and is seen as very human by AKP voters. He’s known for his sense of humour, but he’s a pragmatic politician who has a reputation as a go-getter and a problem solver.

He is a maritime engineer by training. When current Turkish president Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul, Yildirim was in charge of the city’s ferry services.

When Erdogan founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2001, he brought a lot of his good contacts from Istanbul to Ankara with him. Yildirim was one of them and he went on to become Minister of Transportation. It’s a very large, powerful ministry that deals with construction contracts for roads, airports and the maritime industry. It was a ministry where he could hand out benefits. I wouldn’t go as far to say that there was corruption, but favouritism was definitely widespread.

Yildirim held the position for 12 or 13 years, but he was very successful and well-respected in his position. Transportation became a very large area of public support. Many AKP members come from poorer segments of society and improved bus lines and roads were really important to them. You could say that Yildirim became even more important to the government because he had a role in the party that really touched the people.

FRANCE 24: Yildirim ran unopposed and is known to have the president’s firm support. Why is that?

Yildirim has been close to the president for two decades and has served as his advisor recently.

Currently, Erdogan’s plan is to extend his powers. He wants to move from a parliamentary system to one with more executive powers. Former Prime Minister Davutoglu was resisting this project, which is one of the reasons that he and Erdogan fell out. But the president knows that Yildirim wouldn’t do anything to drive a wedge between them. Yildirim is not just close to the president, he is also reputed to be very easy-going. I don’t think he’d be at all bothered to be the second man in the system.

FRANCE 24: What will change under Yildirim?

Davutoglu was an idealist. As the architect of the country’s foreign policy, he really ran it in a very ideological way. Yildirim is much more pragmatic and I think we can expect to see that reflected in his foreign policy. He’ll take up a more reconciliatory tone than Davutoglu ever did.

Erdogan’s overriding concern right now is to shift the country from a parliamentary to a presidential system. He will have to win people over before an eventual referendum over the constitutional changes that would make this possible. I also think that Yildirim will emphasise an increase in nationalism that will unite people around the government party.

Davutoglu helped broker the controversial deal between Turkey and the EU to reduce the flow of migrants from Turkey to Greece. Some people have been saying that the deal won’t hold up now that Davutoglu is stepping down. It’s true that it hasn’t been going smoothly. Turkey wanted visa-less entry to the EU for its citizens as part of the deal, but it has not yet met the criteria needed for this to go through. Erdogan has been complaining about it. But I don’t think the deal will crumble. The EU can’t take the risk of letting it fall through.

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