Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s illness may present a “clear danger” to the unity of Turkey’s ruling party, after his uninterrupted decade in power bolstered political stability and the economy, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc.
Erdogan’s “remarkable” personality hinders “the development of obvious successors,” sparking debate on who may succeed him from the governing Justice and Development Party should he step down, Tim Ash, the London-based chief of emerging markets at RBS, said in an e-mailed report to clients today after holding meetings with officials and analysts in Ankara.
Erdogan’s party showed signs of discord for the first time since 2003 after he underwent initial surgery on his digestive tract in November, over legislation that was vetoed by President Abdullah Gul, his predecessor as prime minister and a co-founder of the governing party. The premier, 58, who underwent a second operation last month and is serving a third term, lashed out at people commenting on his health two days ago after Wikileaks published documents saying he might die of cancer within two years.
“The risk is that post-Erdogan the AK Party would face centrifugal forces, with the clear danger that the party could split,” Ash said in the report. “Arguably the leadership and vision provided by Erdogan, and the dominance of the AK Party which has resulted, has been central to Turkey’s relative political stability and economic success over the past decade.”
Markets have shrugged off reports on Erdogan’s health. The benchmark ISE-100 stock index rose 1,212.36 points, or 2.4 percent, to 52,283.58 on Nov. 28, when the premier’s office said Erdogan underwent surgery two days before and was in good health. The index has gained 13 percent since to 59,280.43 today. The lira rose 4.1 percent against the dollar.
Erdogan, who became Turkey’s leader in 2003, and his single-party government have presided over a record period of economic growth in the $735 billion economy. He began membership talks with the European Union and has also elevated Turkey to a regional power in the Middle East and southeastern Europe by expanding trade and diplomatic ties.
“Those who believe rumors and try to calculate our lifespan are not only bold but also insolent,” Erdogan told provincial chiefs of his party in a speech in the capital Ankara on March 7. “Only Allah can decide on how long we live.”
Surgeons removed polyps that tests revealed to be benign from Erdogan’s intestines in a Nov. 26 surgery and made a “second and final” operation last month, according to his office. Erdogan denied rumors he had cancer, Kanal D television presenter Mehmet Ali Birand said in January citing an interview with the premier.
“Erdogan’s recent incapacity with illness was somewhat revealing as tensions and rivalries appeared to surface in the ruling party during this period,” RBS’s Ash said. The premier keeps rival factions within AK Party in check, he said, adding that “without him, the divisions would break out into the open.”
Erdogan, who has said he favors a presidential system in Turkey to replace the parliamentary system of government, hasn’t ruled out running for head of state in 2014, leaving the prime ministry a year before parliamentary elections. President Gul, who was elected by the national assembly and can’t run for a second term, is among the contenders to become premier, according to the RBS report.
“There does not appear to be an obvious successor to Erdogan,” Ash said in his report, while listing deputy prime ministers Bulent Arinc, Ali Babacan and other ministers as possible successors.
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