Turkey PM battles to emulate Erdogan success

Fulya Ozerkan
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Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during a campaign rally in Istanbul on June 2, 2015

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during a campaign rally in Istanbul on June 2, 2015 (AFP Photo/Ozan Kose)

Kayseri (Turkey) (AFP) - For Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, failure in the legislative elections on June 7 is simply not an option.

He took over as prime minister and head of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in August 2014 when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan moved to the presidency after a triumphant decade as premier and party chief.

In that period, the AKP had won three decisive general election victories in 2002, 2007 and most recently in 2011, where it won almost 50 percent of the vote.

But the party faces its biggest test yet in the June 7 polls, with support waning against the background of a weakening economy. Some predict it may need to form a coalition government.

The onus has fallen on Davutoglu -- a bookish former academic who served as foreign minster under Erdogan -- to rouse the AKP faithful like his charismatic predecessor.

"Any prospect of a failure for the AKP is out of the question," Davutoglu said in an interview with Agence France-Presse in the central Anatolian city of Kayseri, one of the party's bastions of support.

"In fact, there is no other party that makes a claim to come first, except us. We have no rival in a real sense," he said.

Davutoglu told AFP he expected the AKP to take more than 42 percent of the vote, but said even at that figure it would be by far and away the largest party.

"The AKP's success story will continue in any case," he said.

"I always said if we fail to emerge as the first party, I will quit. None of the (other) party leaders dare to say it."

- 'No restriction on Erdogan' -

The campaign is the party's first without Erdogan as AKP leader, with Davutoglu under pressure in the campaign to show a political vigour that can match the president's charisma.

The effort has taken its toll on the usually mild-mannered premier, who has been on a non-stop election tour of more than 70 provinces, from the Iraqi border to the Aegean Sea.

Davutoglu, 56, has raised the decibel count in meetings and is now struggling through the remainder of the campaign with a hoarse voice.

The premier, seen as the architect of Turkey's controversial foreign policy under Erdogan, 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."

Erdogan wants the AKP to win a large majority to change the constitution into a presidential system and enshrine his status as the Turkish number one, a goal analysts say could prove hard to achieve.

Erdogan's active role in the campaign -- giving several speeches a day -- has been hotly criticised for breaking the neutrality principle of the head of state laid down in the constitution.

Davutoglu insisted he steered his own election campaign and it would not be "ethical" for him to voice an opinion on the president's role.

"I do whatever my position requires," Davutoglu said.

"Our president meets with the people on his free will and expresses his own opinion. There's no constitutional restriction on this issue."

Davutoglu denied his first election campaign as AKP leader and premier was overshadowed by Erdogan's strong presence.

"He (Erdogan) carries out such programmes within that framework. It has no dimension that affects our campaign. We lead our own campaign."

- 'HDP linked to terror' -

A pivotal factor in the election will be whether the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) wins enough votes to break the steep 10 percent threshold needed to take seats in parliament.

Davutoglu lambasted the party for links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged an armed insurgency in the southeast for Kurdish autonomy and is regarded as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and United States.

"We have not witnessed so far the HDP calling on the PKK for disarmament," he said.

"Inside, it is affiliated with a terrorist organisation blacklisted not only by Turkey but by the world."

Most commentators predict that the secular opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) will come second, followed by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the HDP in fourth.

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

"He first looks through previously prepared speech texts but in the end he prepares his own speech," she said.