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Turkey Faces Political Shake Up As Prime Minister Resigns


When it comes to some of the biggest international crises of the moment - the war against ISIS, the conflict in Syria, the refugees in Europe - the West is relying on Turkey for help. Well, now Turkey is facing a political shakeup. The prime minister announced today that he's stepping down. He has served less than half of his term, and his departure is expected to strengthen Turkey's already powerful president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Istanbul with more. And Peter, first, why and when is the prime minister leaving?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told people today that there's going to be an extraordinary meeting of the ruling party, the AK Party. That will be on May 22, so that's when. They're going to be electing a leader, and he will not be standing for reelection. And that means he can't be prime minister, so he's done after just 20 months.

He did say this was not his preference, as to why. He didn't say whose preference it was, but others are saying he's out because President Erdogan and his allies want him to go.

SIEGEL: OK - big news in Turkey. What are the implication for other countries, including the U.S.?

KENYON: Well, as you mentioned, Turkey's at the center of a lot of crises now. Washington counts on Turkey's help in the fight against ISIS, both Syria and Iraq. Europe is worried about the flow of migrants. They have a controversial deal that has in fact been effective in stemming that flow up until now.

ISIS recognizes Turkey's role. They're sending rockets across the border, carrying out suicide bomb attacks in major cities. So Turkey's political health basically is an issue of concern in a lot of world capitals right now, and Western leaders in particular will be wanting to know that the government is stable. And that was one of Mr. Davutoglu's messages today. The AK Party's still strong, still carrying on; don't worry.

SIEGEL: And is there any reason why the departure of the prime Minister would happen now?

KENYON: Well, there's a couple schools of thought. The external view basically says Western pressure on Erdogan is quite limited at the moment because, as we were just discussing, of this reliance on all these other major issues.

Internally, basically, Davutoglu did agree on many of the major issues with Erdogan but wasn't quite strong enough on his top priority, and that's the strong presidency. Erdogan wants to amend the Turkish Constitution, take executive authority away from the prime minister, give it to the president. It puts us in an interesting situation. Erdogan will now presumably be looking for a prime minister willing to work him or herself out of real power by leading this charge to change the constitution.

SIEGEL: Peter, we've heard growing concerns about the state of Turkish democracy, the concentration of power in President Erdogan's hands, the intolerance for dissenting views, the crackdown on the press. How did today's developments play into all of that?

KENYON: Well, Ahmet Davutoglu may be seen as the more Western-friendly face of this government, but Turks say he didn't really do all that much to fight this growing crackdown on dissent - not in public, anyway. But if the president, Erdogan, gets his way with a new constitution, then he will certainly have a lot more power, and the worries about Turkey's democracy will only increase.

The question really is, how does he get there? The opposition in parliament's been a bit bulky. Opinion polls show the public might vote down a referendum. So that brings us to the question of whether there might be early elections for parliament.

SIEGEL: What do people in Turkey say about who might succeed Davutoglu as prime minister?

KENYON: There's been two or three cabinet ministers. The ones most frequently mentioned include the transport minister, and another possibility includes the energy minister who happens also to be President Erdogan's son-in-law.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thanks.

KENYON: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.