President Erdogan

A Prime Minister Plans for the Presidency

Erdogan greets supporters in Istanbul, August 2014. Murad Sezer / Courtesy Reuters

Now that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become the country's first popularly elected president, analysts are speculating about his next moves. Although Turkey’s president is formally only the head of state, the position will provide a platform from which Erdogan can influence policies and appointments. Moreover, he has said on multiple occasions that he will expand the powers of the office to their constitutionally mandated limit -- and then some.

Given his imperious attitude, Erdogan is often compared to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Although he occasionally consulted with advisers, Ataturk imposed sweeping changes through sheer force of will. Erdogan is just as determined. But he also has something Ataturk did not: the near-complete loyalty of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which provides a ready mechanism for setting policy.

Although he is mentioned less often, another Turkish political figure offers an even better point of comparison: Turgut Ozal, who served as prime minister in 1983–89 and as president in 1989–93. Both Erdogan and Ozal entered politics though nontraditional routes: Ozal was an economist before being tapped to work for Turkey’s post-1980 junta. Erdogan famously came from an impoverished background and was a talented amateur soccer player before becoming active in the Islamist Welfare Party. Both men went on to break with their political patrons and form their own center-right political groups -- Ozal the Motherland Party and Erdogan the AKP. Both saw their parties come to dominate Turkish politics and went on to serve as prime minister and then president.

As prime minister, Erdogan has focused on the same three areas that Ozal did: the economy, foreign policy, and minority reconciliation. A strong proponent of liberal capitalism, Ozal is credited with opening up and modernizing the Turkish economy during his tenure as prime minister. He continued his program of free-market expansion and regional trade as president, laying the groundwork for strong economic growth in the 1990s and in the early years of this century. Erdogan

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