Davutoglu: Turkey's bookish PM celebrates unexpected victory

Fulya Ozerkan
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Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R) pictured October 31, 2015 at a political rally with his wife, gynaecologist Sare Davutoglu, is a former academic with influential publications on global politics to his credit

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R) pictured October 31, 2015 at a political rally with his wife, gynaecologist Sare Davutoglu, is a former academic with influential publications on global politics to his credit (AFP Photo/Adem Altan)

Ankara (AFP) - Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's mild-mannered demeanour belies his abilities as a tough negotiator and strategic thinker who has been at the heart of government since Recep Tayyip Erdogan first came to power in 2003.

The bookish former academic was celebrating on Sunday after he led his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to a surprise election win, hailing it as a "day of victory" and appealing for unity.

He had managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, as opinion polls had almost unanimously predicted that the AKP would fail to win back the majority it lost in June under his leadership.

Such an outcome would probably have left the 56-year-old fighting for his political life.

Branded by some as Erdogan's "puppet", Davutoglu had been under pressure to show a political vigour that could match the shrewd and dogged charisma of the premier-turned-president.

Usually softly-spoken, the bespectacled Davutoglu often dropped his kindly smile and raised the decibel count at campaign rallies in feisty outbursts more reminiscent of his master.

Davutoglu became premier and leader of the AKP in 2014 when Erdogan was elected president.

In Erdogan's absence, the party had been showing signs of cracks over the fate of the collapsed Kurdish peace process and a very public war of words between top party figures.

At an AKP congress in September, there were rumours Davutoglu could face a leadership challenge from another Erdogan loyalist although he was ultimately re-elected unopposed.

- 'Look at my face'-

After an academic career as a professor of international relations, Davutoglu became one of Erdogan's top advisors in 2003.

He was promoted to foreign minister in 2009 and since then has overseen Turkish policy on the string of crises which exploded since the Arab Spring, including the Syria conflict.

Encouraged by Erdogan, who has always pushed for Turkey to become a world power, Davutoglu has sought a pivotal role for the country as a mediator in conflicts in the Middle East.

This new policy was not always welcomed and sparked accusations that the Islamic-rooted government was promoting "neo-Ottomanism" and even "pan-Islamism" in seeking to restore Turkish influence throughout the former Ottoman Empire.

He has rejected accusations that the NATO member and EU candidate is shifting away from the West, arguing that Turkey is ideally positioned to reach out in multiple directions.

Davutoglu advocated a policy of "zero problems" with its neighbours and embarked on fence-mending efforts with countries such as Armenia.

But the Arab Spring left Turkey with a myriad of problems in its backyard.

Ankara's support for Islamic rebels in Syria backfired disastrously. Having hoped this would help oust President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey now stands accused of indirectly helping to create the brutal jihadist Islamic State group.

Davutoglu dismissed allegations of Turkish complicity with IS that mounted after the devastating attacks on a pro-Kurdish peace rally in Ankara that killed 102 people.

"Look at me now, look at my face, my eyes. Do I have the face of someone who would support ISIS?" he said last month.

Turkey's relations with the West have also cooled over concerns about increasing authoritarianism and its deteriorating record on human rights and press freedoms, and momentum towards EU membership has been lost.

- Romance-for-votes -

A fluent speaker of English, German and Arabic, Davutoglu was born in Konya, one of Turkey's most religiously conservative provinces and a bedrock of AKP support.

He has published influential books on international politics. His own vision for Turkey is summarised in his book "Strategic Depth", seen as the key theoretical work on the current foreign policy.

The premier has admitted he misses academia but tries to turn town squares into lecture theatres.

"I ask questions and receive answers. If there's a wrong answer, I say it is not correct," he told AFP in June.

Married with four children, Davutoglu dedicates time to his family outside work but he barely finds time for anything including his passion for reading, his wife Sare, a gynaecologist, told AFP.

A pious Muslim whose wife wears a headscarf, he often uses religious rhetoric to rouse followers.

At one campaign rally, Davutoglu said his party could even help those who were struggling to find a mate -- a proposal which sparked much mirth and mockery on social media.

"You have a job, a salary, food, what's left? A partner," Davutoglu said.

"When you want to get married, you go to see your parents first. God willing, they will find the ideal person. If that's not the case, speak to us."