ANKARA: Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was re-elected Sunday as leader of his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), securing his seat for three more years. Erdogan faced no competition in the vote, which was held at a congress of AKP – his last as prime minister and party leader as AKP bylaws set a limit of three consecutive terms.
At the congress attended by thousands of party members and regional leaders, Erdogan cemented ties with another rising regional power – Mohammad Mursi’s Egypt, signing a deal to loan Cairo $1 billion, half of the aid package Ankara promised earlier this month.
President Mursi signed the agreement with Erdogan after giving a speech, where he spoke of strong regional policy ties with Turkey and praised it for being the first country to back the Egyptian revolution which toppled Hosni Mubarak and led to the Muslim Brotherhood winning power.
Erdogan, who is widely expected to run for the presidency in 2014, said in a separate speech lasting almost two and half hours and meant to chart the AKP’s agenda for the next decade that service was more important than titles.
The remark was interpreted as a strong sign that he wants to become the country’s first popularly elected president under a 2007 constitutional amendment setting a five-year presidential term, renewable once.
“We have shown everyone that an advanced democracy can exist in a predominantly Muslim country,” Erdogan told the congress. “We have become a role model for all Muslim countries.”
Erdogan and Mursi also announced that dozens of ministers from Turkey and Egypt will gather in Cairo in November in a bid to boost their alliance. “Accompanied by 13 ministers, I will be in Cairo in early November” for the meeting of a high-level strategic council established between the two countries to boost ties, Erdogan told a news conference with Morsi after the congress.
“I am fully confident that the meeting ... will bring about very important results,” Erdogan said.
In his main congress speech, he vowed to forge a more diverse constitution and turn a new page in relations with Turkey’s 15 million Kurds.
“We called ourselves conservative democrats. We focused our change on basic rights and freedom,” Erdogan told thousands of cheering party members.
Under Erdogan’s autocratic grip, AKP has won three consecutive landslide election victories since 2002, ending a history of fragile coalition governments punctuated by military coups and marking Turkey’s longest period of single-party government for more than half a century.
Per capita income has nearly tripled in that time and Turkey has re-established itself as a regional power, with its allies seeing its mix of democratic stability and Islamic culture as a potential role model in a volatile region.
“Turkey has shown the bright face of Islam,” Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ leader in exile, told the congress. “Erdogan, you are not only a leader in Turkey now, you are a leader in the Muslim world as well.”
In a speech heavy on rhetoric but light on detail, Erdogan looked back over AKP’s successes over the past decade but acknowledged that Turkey still faced major challenges.
He said it badly needed a new constitution to replace one written after a military coup three decades ago, and invited opposition parties for consultations later this year.
“We will continue our struggle for a new constitution based on freedom, and which will allow diversity,” he said.
The prime minister pledged a new chapter in relations with Turkey’s Kurds but called on them to denounce violence by the guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, considered a terrorist group by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.
“From today, we want to open a new page, and we want to make it a page of peace and brotherhood with our Kurdish brothers,” he said.
“We expect our Kurdish brothers to take a step toward us, raise their voice against terror and say enough is enough.”