Binali Yıldırım may pleasantly surprise his European interlocutors
“I can’t imagine what would have happened if we were caught in this storm with Ahmet Davutoğlu at the helm,” a colleague who is also a prominent scholar recently told me, talking about the July 15 coup attempt.
I am sure former Prime Minister Davutoğlu is lamenting the fact that he is missing the opportunity to deliver heroic speeches at every occasion, using every opportunity to bash the West.
Probably the fundamental difference between Davutoğlu and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım is the fact that the latter refrains from getting involved in any war of egos with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Following Davutoğlu’s decision to leave the prime ministry, there were speculations that Erdoğan would opt for a “low-profile figure.” Yıldırım is not the “Davutoğlu type,” but I think he surprised many with his performance in his first days as prime minister. While nobody expects him to defy or challenge Erdoğan, or dare to implement policies that will anger him, Yıldırım has still somehow not been overshadowed by the “super-charismatic man” in the presidency. He is gaining credit with his own style.
His post-coup performance has also been pleasantly surprising. Yıldırım was the first to make a statement on the night of July 15 saying Turkey was facing the “uprising” of a group within the army, which clarified the air a little for millions who could not understand what was going on.
The way he has treated the opposition has also struck a big contrast with past practices. Upon criticism from opposition parties – especially on changes planned in military-civil relations - he immediately went to visit the two main leaders of the opposition. He has underlined many times that he wants to protect the post-coup unity in Turkish society.
His addresses to the world have also been balanced. “Turkey and the U.S. have had friendly, amicable relations for a very long time, and are allies and strategic partners. We do not believe they are going to stand alongside the leader of this terrorist organization,” Yıldırım told the Guardian on the issue of the extradition of Pennsylvania-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who the government says was behind the coup attempt.
“Of course, since the leader of this terrorist organization is residing in the United States there are question marks in the minds of the people whether there is any U.S. involvement or backing,” he said in the interview, while “taking care to note that Washington was not involved in the coup attempt,” according to the Guardian. “So America from this point on should really think how they will continue to cooperate with Turkey, which is a strategic ally for them in the region and world,” Yıldırım added in the same interview.
It was a well-formulated, diplomatic statement. While he is not known for having much experience in diplomacy, Turkish diplomats have also been “pleasantly surprised” by his performance in talks with foreign interlocutors. His recent statement which can be seen as an objection to the death penalty has come as a relief for many.
When EU member countries negotiated the refugee deal with Davutoğlu, part of their game plan was to try to strengthen the hands of the “executive” against Erdoğan, who by now we all know they did not like to work with.
Yıldırım, who unlike Davutoğlu will abstain from lecturing them, could prove to be a better interlocutor than his predecessor. Not so much to bypass Erdoğan, but for his pragmatic, calm style and ability to survive longer than Davutoğlu.
Davutoğlu will be remembered for Turkey ultimately opting for exactly the opposite of his famous “zero problems with neighbors” policy. We will see how Yıldırım’s vow to “decrease the number of our enemies and increase the number of our friends” will end up being remembered.