ANKARA • Mr Ahmet Davutoglu announced yesterday that he was stepping down as leader of Turkey's ruling AK Party and therefore as Prime Minister, bowing to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's drive to create a powerful executive presidency.
In a speech defending his record, but also vowing loyalty to Mr Erdogan, Mr Davutoglu said he had kept his party and the government intact during a tumultuous period and pledged that "strong" AKP government would continue.
After a leadership meeting of the party founded and dominated by Mr Erdogan, Mr Davutoglu told reporters that, under the current circumstances, he would not run again for leader at an extraordinary party congress on May 22.
"I am telling our members, up until today I was leading you. From now on, I am among you," he said.
Mr Davutoglu's departure plunges the Nato member into political uncertainty just as Europe needs its help in curbing a migration crisis and Washington needs support in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). There could now be a parliamentary election, the third in less than 18 months.
Under Turkey's Constitution, the prime minister is the most powerful official, and the president, although he has some genuine powers, is a largely ceremonial figure.
But Mr Erdogan has not been like previous Turkish presidents, and there has been little doubt that he is the country's pre-eminent political figure. Mr Davutoglu, who became prime minister in 2014 after Mr Erdogan was elected president, had long been seen as subservient to Mr Erdogan.
But after being branded Mr Erdogan's "puppet", the 57-year-old Mr Davutoglu sought to show a political vigour to match the cunning of the charismatic premier-turnedpresident.
Simmering tensions between them reached a breaking point last week, after party officials stripped Mr Davutoglu of his power to choose provincial party leaders.
His successor is likely to be significantly more willing to back Mr Erdogan's aim of changing the Constitution to create a presidential system that would undermine the powers of the premier, a move that opponents say will bring growing authoritarianism.
Government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, both Erdogan loyalists, are potential candidates to replace Mr Davutoglu, three sources close to the presidency said.
Transport Minister Binali Yildirim and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, Mr Erdogan's son-in-law, have also been touted, they said.
Presidential adviser Cemil Ertem said economic policy would not change, and that no election was likely before the government's mandate expires in 2019. But a member of the AKP's executive board and a source close to the party both said an autumn election was the most likely scenario.
The aim would be to win two-thirds of the 550 seats in Parliament - a gain of 50 from the AKP's current 317 - to allow the party to change the Constitution without the need for a referendum.
Mr Davutoglu, who is fluent in English, German and Arabic, was born in Konya, one of Turkey's most religiously conservative provinces and a bedrock of AKP support.
Married with four children, he dedicates time to his family outside work, but has had little time to indulge his passion for books, his wife Sare, a gynaecologist, said last year.
A consensus man, in contrast with the president, Mr Davutoglu advocated a policy of "zero problems" with Turkey's neighbours and embarked on fence-mending efforts with countries such as Armenia.
REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE