Erdogan loyalist Yildirim: happy to become Turkey’s last prime minister


ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has spent the last few weeks talking himself out of a job.

FILE PHOTO: Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim delivers a speech in Istanbul, Turkey May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo

Presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday will trigger the switch to a powerful executive presidency and the abolition of the post of prime minister, unseating Yildirim two years after his promotion by President Tayyip Erdogan.

The president’s staunch ally, 62, shrugged off the prospect of stepping down as he flew across Turkey on a schedule of daily election rallies, adopting a philosophical stance.

“These titles are meaningful for a certain period of time. After that, you are an ordinary person and life goes on. You will only live whatever is in your destiny,” he told Reuters on board a flight to a rally in southeast Turkey.

His destiny has been entwined with Erdogan since the 1990s when Yildirim, educated in shipbuilding and marine sciences, was in charge of a high-speed ferry company in Istanbul at a time when Erdogan was mayor of Turkey’s largest city.

Yildirim, from Erzincan in eastern Turkey, was a founding member of Erdogan’s ruling AK Party and took the mantle of prime minister in May 2016, replacing Ahmet Davutoglu who stepped down following weeks of public tension with Erdogan.

Since then, much of his work has focused on paving the way for the constitutional transition to a presidential system, narrowly approved in a referendum last year – a task which Yildirim described as his most important accomplishment.

“Now that I have kept my promise, I am at peace,” he said.

If elected as widely expected, Erdogan will return to the presidency with new sweeping executive powers, able to form a cabinet, dissolve parliament and declare a state of emergency.

The elections had been scheduled for November 2019 but Erdogan brought them forward to June 24, saying the switch was needed to tackle economic and security challenges rapidly. It was a decision that Yildirim loyally supported.

Elected as a deputy for Istanbul in 2002 when the AKP won its first election, Yildirim then served as transport minister for more than a decade, presiding over major infrastructure projects widely viewed as key to the AKP’s electoral successes.

As prime minister Yildirim has often adopted a folksy style in his speeches, at times glum, at times injecting humor as he reaches out to voters. Surrounded by loyal AK Party supporters on the latest campaign trail, he has been filmed baking traditional Turkish pide bread and serving customers at an ice-cream stall.

Yildirim looks set to remain in politics. He is running in Sunday’s parliamentary election as an AKP candidate in the western coastal province of Izmir, where he campaigned unsuccessfully to be mayor in 2014.

Whatever the outcome of the elections, Yildirim’s close relationship with Erdogan looks set to continue.

“We will continue to work together no matter what our titles are,” Yildirim said.

Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Daren Butler and Peter Graff

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