(Justice and Development Party Website, Encyclopaedia of the Orient; Reuters - 15/03/03; BBC, Reuters, CNN - 14/03/03; BBC - 12/03/03; FT - 04/11/02)
Recep Tayyip Erdogan became prime minister of Turkey on 14 March 2003, five days after winning a by-election in the province of Siirt. The leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Erdogan took over the prime minister's post from his party deputy, Abdullah Gul, who headed the government following the AKP's landslide victory in the November 2002 elections.
Erdogan was born in Rize in northern Turkey on 26 February 1954. He moved with his family to Istanbul in 1967, where he later graduated from Marmara University's College of Business with a degree in management.
Erdogan was elected to a four-year term as mayor of Istanbul in 1994, as a candidate from Necmettin Erbakan's Welfare party. As mayor, Erdogan was credited by the public for improving services, as well as for making the city greener and cleaner. The Constitutional Court banned the Welfare party in 1998 and Erdogan joined the Virtue party, which emerged from the ashes of its outlawed predecessor. Later that year, a court convicted him for inciting religious hatred and sentenced him to ten months in prison, of which he served four months in 1999.
In 2001, the Virtue party was also banned for violating secular laws, and Erdogan formed the AKP in August 2001 to lead it to its triumph in the November 2002 elections.
Although Erdogan was the most popular politician in Turkey at the time of the vote, he was constitutionally barred from running for public office, and thus could not win the parliamentary seat he needed in order to become prime minister. Having won almost 35 per cent of the vote, the AKP was able to form a government on its own as well as gain a comfortable parliamentary majority. Soon after the legislature was in place, AKP lawmakers amended the constitution, clearing Erdogan's path to the prime minister's seat.
Addressing concerns in and outside Turkey that the ascent into power of a party with Islamist roots could pose a threat to the secularist establishment, Erdogan and other party leaders insisted the AKP had no secret religious agenda, and espoused a pro-Western conservative programme. Erdogan identified Turkey's EU entry as a top priority, pledging reforms to make Turkey more democratic and pluralist and bring it in line with the Union's membership criteria. He also vowed commitment to a strict IMF-backed programme to deal with the economic crisis that hit Turkey in 2001.
Two days after Erdogan won his parliamentary seat, Gul resigned to make room for the AKP leader, who was already widely regarded as the country's actual leader.
Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer approved the new cabinet proposed by Erdogan and appointed him prime minister.