Accepting this as the most likely scenario, let’s look into the discussions in Ankara of who might be the next prime minister and therefore the head of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
President Abdullah Gul is often mentioned as the top contester for this position in the post-Erdogan era. His statement last week saying that he has no political plans for the future under today’s conditions was interpreted in two different ways. The first category suggested that Gul wanted to express that he won’t be “Erdogan’s yes-man prime minister,” and therefore he was open to discuss his second term as president. The second category, however, while acknowledging that Gul’s second term is technically possible, is of the opinion that his chance of leading the AKP and the government after Erdogan is getting thin.
Politically speaking, Erdogan would perhaps show all his respect to Gul, but would seek some other individuals for the prime ministry who would be unquestionably supportive of him throughout his mandate in the presidential palace. Obviously, Gul is not that person. He has full respect and credit among the AKP ranks, especially among his old fellows, but Erdogan’s close circle is critical of him over various issues, especially since the Gezi Park demonstrations.
Only three days after Gul made this statement, another important figure from the AKP, deputy leader Mehmet Ali Sahin, suggested that one of the four current deputy prime ministers could perfectly handle this very hard task, although it was his own idea. They are: Bulent Arinc, Besir Atalay, Ali Babacan and Emrullah Isler.
A deputy prime minister and spokesperson for the government, Arinc is the most experienced among them. He is one of the five founders of the AKP and has always played a crucial role throughout its time in government. Different from many of his colleagues in the party, Arinc is well-known for having an independent mind and the courage to express it when he notices the government’s mistakes. That’s how he came to have one of the harshest rows with Erdogan last year over the Gezi Park protests. His decision to resign from his post after Erdogan harshly slammed him in front of other Cabinet ministers could only be reversed after intense efforts from his fellows. In this regard, Arinc would not be an ideal prime minister for Erdogan.
Deputy Prime Minister Atalay is known to be the architect of the Kurdish peace process and coordinates the anti-terror board and other terror-related issues. Along with Hakan Fidan, the head of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), he frequently hits the headlines of the pro-Gulen media over his alleged ties with Iran and over the ongoing Kurdish peace process. Atalay is surely playing a key role in the government, but his popularity inside the party is not very high. One question, therefore, about Atalay’s potential as prime minister, is whether he can control the party and keep the party’s votes up around 45 percent.
The deputy prime minister responsible for the economy, Babacan, is the other candidate. There is no question that Babacan is one of few irreplaceable ministers in the Cabinet. Erdogan is aware that he should be grateful to Babacan for keeping the Turkish economy in stable waters. As a former foreign minister and chief negotiator for EU talks, Babacan is a well-known international figure and him being prime minister would give Erdogan a fresh breath in Turkey’s ties with the world. One point in this picture is that Babacan is known to have already expressed that he plans to quit politics next year. He would be a good prime minister, but his close ties with Gül would irk some of Erdogan’s men in the party.
Emrullah Isler was appointed as deputy prime minister in the last Cabinet reshuffle. In the case of Erdogan bidding to find a “fully loyal, yes-man prime minister,” Isler would be the greatest nominee.
However, apart from these individuals, there are other contenders for the post too. Among them are Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, former Transport Minister Binali Yildirim, AKP Deputy Head Numan Kurtulmus, Deputy Head Mehmet Ali Sahin, and others.
Turkey’s next prime minister will likely be Turkey’s first vice president, and the one who is most accordant with the president will be selected from among this group.