Top Priorities of Turkey’s New Prime Minister

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Reza Solat
Ph.D. in International Relations and Expert on Turkey Issues

Turkey’s 56th government started to work recently. According to official remarks, the agenda of the new government is based on participatory democracy and the rule of law, and it is said to be pursuing three major goals. The first goal is to come up with a proactive but balanced foreign policy, which would be at the same time inclined toward the West, under the lead of the current foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. The second goal is to intensify the fight against terrorist groups, especially the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the third goal of the new government is make plans to develop a production-based economy predicated on creating more jobs for the country’s manpower. In this regard, Turkey is planning to reduce reliance on foreign exchange, stock market and the interest rate (usury) while adopting incentive policies to encourage employment and solve the country’s joblessness problem. In addition to these main goals, the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is struggling against parallel structures to the government both personally and through his new prime minister, Binali Yildirim. He is so serious in this regard that a new wave of arrests, purges and trials of elements supposed to be affiliated with the opposition figure, Fethullah Gülen, has been started.

Another domestic goal for the new Turkish government is to do away with the remaining signs of the country’s guardianship system. The ruling Justice and Development Party had already taken major steps in this regard, especially to put an end to military guardianship in the country. However, the most important measure to be taken by the new government led by Yildirim is to formulate a new constitution in a way that would reflect the spirit of new Turkey. Therefore, the most important priority for his government is to improve the existing inefficient system by introducing amendments to the constitution and on the basis of these legal powers, Yildirim will do his best to change the country’s political system from a parliamentary system to a presidential one. The new leader of the Justice and Development Party, however, has been somehow cautious in this regard and has reinstated a number of ministers from the cabinet of his predecessor, Ahmet Davutoglu. However, the most important change was made to the Ministry of European Union Affairs.

On the whole, Yildirim’s government has an economic structure and it seems that unlike Davutoglu, he is not going to meet the interests of Turkey outside its borders and will instead focus more on domestic policies in order to overcome recent crises. It seems that in this new policy, Davutoglu’s typologic structure will lose its importance. On the other hand, Yildirim has been known as manager of huge developmental projects, who can help the interests of Turkey by adopting an approach, which would pay more attention to what is going on within Turkey’s borders. On the whole and unlike Davutoglu, he seems to be less curious about foreign policy matters.

During the past decade, Turkey has been trying to turn into a key actor at regional and international levels. However, regardless of how much Ankara has been successful in turning into a creditable actor at regional level, when it comes to international system, despite its membership in almost all international organizations and institutions, it is still overshadowed by Western countries and policies. This is one of the conclusions that Turkish politicians have apparently reached in recent years and this has prompted the new Turkish prime minister to pay attention to two points in the field of foreign policy. Firstly, he is bent on pursing the country’s membership at the European Union more seriously so that in view of its population and geopolitical capacities, Turkey could turn into one of the influential European powers which can weigh down on global issues. Secondly, he wants to find non-Western allies for the country as well. These non-Western allies can also include new institutions and organizations.

Another point is that Davutoglu’s footprint will remain in the country’s foreign policy. Perhaps, it was long-term plans by the Justice and Development Party and Erdogan, which have helped Davutoglu to remain an effective actor in the country’s foreign policy. Davutoglu’s systemic view along with his belief in the fact that domestic politics of average countries like Turkey, which suffers from internal problems, can be improved through a successful foreign policy, will give him a greater role in the country’s policymaking mechanism.

There are two interrelated basic points in Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies. The first point is pivotal role of the Sunni Islam, while the second point is promoting Turkey’s axial role among Turkish countries. On the one hand, the Justice and Development Party wants to present an Islamic image of itself in order to become the leader of the Muslim world and attend to issues related to Muslims. On the other hand, it is trying to play the role of the “big brother” among Turkish-speaking countries in order to come up with a union similar to the European Union. The presence of the Turkmen President in Erdogan’s balcony ceremony and Turkish president’s trip to the Republic of Azerbaijan attest to this issue. These two basic principles form Turkey’s long-term foreign policy insight. Apart from this issue, Turkey’s new political approach makes the country’s new government, which is known to be a mercantilist government, more economy-oriented. As a result, Justice and Development Party’s ideological views in the Middle East are expected to be toned down.

Turkey’s relations with Iran can be mentioned as an example, which for many centuries have been devoid of any strategic and alliance-inspiring meaning except for large-scale economic cooperation. This issue under the rule of the Justice and Development Party stemmed from the fact that Iran is a non-Sunni Muslim nation and is also Persian, that is, non-Turk. It seems that under the new prime minister, economic cooperation will be highlighted in Tehran-Ankara relations and bilateral ties between the two neighboring and powerful countries in the region will expand in such areas as oil, trade, tourism, energy, and transportation.

On the other hand, under the new prime minister, Turkey seems to be formulating and implementing complementary policies. For example, the country aims to embark on investment and implementation of new projects in cooperation with another actor in a third region. It is with regard to these policies that Turkey can engage in strategic cooperation with Iran. Ankara must convince Tehran that implementing any regional project would not be economical or even possible without Iran or in the absence of close cooperation from the Islamic Republic. Due to identity-based differences between the two countries and their pivotal values, achieving this goal needs presentation of a comprehensive identity-based concept, which would be able to bring Iran and Turkey closer together.

Key WordsBinali Yildirim, Top Priorities, Turkey, New Prime Minister, Foreign Policy, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Fethullah Gülen, New Constitution, Ahmet Davutoglu, European Union, Typologic Structure, Sunni Islam, Middle East, Iran, Economic Cooperation, Strategic Cooperation, Solat

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*Photo Credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas

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