Forecasts on a cabinet reshuffle as Babacan also challenges Erdoğan in Turkey
In the event of a cabinet reshuffle, many wonder whether Berat Albayrak, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law and current Minister of Treasury and Finance, will keep his place. This is not something new. What’s new is Erdoğan’s previous economy captain Ali Babacan’s announcement that he will found a new party from within Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) by the end of this year.
After Ahmet Davutoğlu’s move, this is the second sign of rebellion coming from the team that brought Erdoğan to his current position. A recent poll by Avrasya reported that the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is surpassing the AKP in popularity for the first time. It also showed that Babacan could attract around 5 percent of the AKP votes. This would be bad news for Erdoğan.
And that’s not all. The dust has not yet settled within the AKP in the wake of the local elections defeat. Bülent Arınç, who was reestablished before the June 23 elections and taken into the Presidency High Advisory Board, was told to “get moving” by Parliament Group Deputy Chairman Bülent Turan, who is young enough to be his son. The reason was that Arınç had said that he believed that Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) elected mayor of Mardin and subsequently replaced by a government trustee, “had nothing to do with terrorism”.
Following his resignation, Babacan first spoke to Karar newspaper on September 10. A few more points were made clearer in this interview. Firstly, Abdullah Gül would not be part of the party. This means two things: that Babacan doesn’t wish to be overshadowed by anyone in the party’s leadership, and that the possibility that Abdullah Gül could be put forth as the opposition’s presidential candidate against Erdoğan is still open. It is also interesting that Babacan, who, like Istanbul mayor-elect Ekrem İmamoğlu or Ankara mayor-elect Mansur Yavaş, has been known to bring a more soft-spoken attitude to politics, has chosen Karar as the first newspaper he spoke to – the publication was generally considered to be closer to Davutoğlu until now.
To sum it up, news that Erdoğan will go for “radical” changes in the ministerial cabinet began to spread at a time where the AKP is facing disengagements and purges whilst its inner turmoil is coming out as rows. If “radical” changes, as it has been mentioned in pro-government media mean a reshuffle of key ministerial positions, indicating revisions in Erdoğan’s domestic, foreign and economic policies, it can be helpful to analyze the names one by one.
Key ministers: Albayrak first
Firstly, the one everyone wonders about is Berat Albayrak. The Presidential decree no. 43 published in the Official Gazette on August 7 was enabling the Treasury to be in a business partnership with domestic and foreign companies and founding a Mortgage Insurance Company, as a derivative tool – like in the U.S. before the 2008 crisis. The same decree also granted many of the authorities of the Presidential Strategy and Budget Directorate, still run by Naci Ağbal, to the Ministry of Treasury and Finance. This was unforeseen in the Turkish government administration system; two separate institutions were to use the same authorities “in conjunction with one another”. This can be interpreted in two ways. One is that Albayrak will end up in Beştepe by the President’s side, possibly creating a new kind of Presidential deputyship or other new position of authority in the process, whilst Naci Ağbal or some other will take on the post of Ministry. The second possibility could be that the Strategy and Budget authorities will be transferred to Albayrak’s ministry too, granting him even more power. In both scenarios, it appears that Albayrak will remain. It seems that Erdoğan and his entourage don’t want to appear as though they were “sacrificing” a member for the party’s good, precisely at a time where the “family-run” appearance of the government and the party is being criticized. Besides, Berat Albayrak is of key importance in U.S. President Donald Trump’s goal of reaching ﹩100 billion in trading volume; the person Albayrak deals with here is Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in law who is also his Middle East Special Envoy. Erdoğan values this project greatly and it’s highly unlikely that he will let go of Albayrak during this process.
Other key ministers
Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs: Çavuşoğlu, besides Erdoğan, is the only one who has been among the founders of the party in 2001 and has managed to keep a certain governmental post ever since. If Binali Yıldırım won’t be made a Deputy President alongside Fuat Oktay, Çavuşoğlu will remain as the only non-discarded one. In all these years, there has been no problem between Erdoğan and Çavuşoğlu – at least none that has been known of. Çavuşoğlu is not blamed for the loss of the mayorship in Antalya either. But many AKP members have their eye on Çavuşoğlu’s post. Politics is a slippery slope but he seems to remain on firm ground for now.
Hulusi Akar, Minister of Defence: Having passed from his Presidency of General Staff onto the post of Minister of Defence following the July 15, 2016, coup attempt disaster, Akar is among the ministers withe the firmest place in the cabinet. He assumes an important role in diplomatic relations not only with the U.S. but also with Russia. Also, he has undertaken one of the most important military reforms in the Republic’s history, one which has not been declared to the public yet. If he were to be unseated, that would indeed be a “radical” measure: it doesn’t look too likely.
Süleyman Soylu, Minister of the Interior: Despite rumors that he’s not on good terms with Albayrak, he is trusted by not only Erdoğan but also his election (and undercover coalition) partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli. The news that Bahceli has congratulated Soylu on the phone may be due not only to the dismissal of the three HDP mayors but also to the observance of Bahceli’s proposals in the appointment of several district governors and police officers in the east and southeast. Moreover, Soylu is often targeted by the opposition and Erdogan may not want to dismiss him, fearing it may look as though he’s weakened.
Abdülhamit Gül, Minister of Justice: Gül, one of the masterminds of AKP’s electoral partnership with MHP, is now preparing to give a new and final form to the Judicial Reform. The judiciary reform, set to be announced before the parliament closes, will likely be the first subject to be discussed outside of parliament. One of the most important elements in Erdogan’s discourse on improving relations with the European Union, albeit on paper, is the Minister of Justice Gül. Changing this, either, is not likely at this stage.
Hakan Fidan, the Director of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT): Fidan is not officially a member of the cabinet but has more say on governmental practices and displays a stronger presence than most of the ministers. Rumors have been have spread recently in Ankara that he could be be appointed as Ambassador to Washington but Erdogan wants Fidan near him; back in the day, when he wanted to be an MP under Davutoğlu as Prime Minister, Erdoğan prevented it, stating that Fidan was his “black box”. Besides, he plays an active secret diplomacy role, much like Akar, in the Syrian issue as well as in relations with the US and Russia.
No offence, but any change that does not affect the aforementioned political actors, is too weak to be considered a “radical” measure that could affect Ankara politics. It is highly probable that Erdoğan’s changes to other names, even if he replaces technocrats with political figures in order to soothe the election defeat atmosphere, is likely to be perceived as mere cosmetic efforts to alleviate intra-party mobility at home and abroad.