On June 3, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan first took the oath of office at the Turkish Grand National Assembly and began his third term as president after winning the elections on the second round on May 28. Then he laid flowers at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk at Anıtkabir in the rain, and later, after a lavish ceremony at the Presidential Palace a Beştepe, he named his new cabinet members. The question is whether the changed names will bring a change in Erdoğan’s politics and whether they will have a say in the administration.
But let me share an observation from the beginning: In the new Erdoğan era that began on the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic, the preference in economic management has been for international capital circles, in defense for the military, and in foreign policy for the security-intelligence axis.
Economy: Will it return to “rational ground”?
Erdoğan appointed Mehmet Şimsek as the Minister of Treasury and Finance, a demonstration of his intention to get along with international financial circles. While taking over the post from Nurettin Nebati, Şimşek said, “It is time to return to the rational ground,” implying that the current economic policy is not “rational”. Will Şimşek change Erdoğan’s policy of “high-interest rates are the cause of high inflation”, which he has been insisting on since 2018 and refusing to acknowledge as the root cause of economic woes?
It was reported that Şimşek wants Hafize Gaye Erkan, who is reported to be experienced in “orthodox fiscal policies”, to head the Central Bank instead of Şahap Kavcıoğlu. Markets are focused on this appointment and whether the CBRT will raise interest rates in the first stage. Let us wait and see whether the mountain will give birth to a mouse and the initiative will only lead to unfair market gains, or Erdoğan will turn back from his mistake.
Not only Şimsek, but also Yilmaz
Let us go down another layer: Cevdet Yılmaz was among the names Erdoğan could have appointed to the Treasury and Finance Ministry if he had failed to convince Şimşek. Yılmaz had previously served in economic ministries in both Erdoğan’s and Ahmet Davutoğlu’s cabinets. Having a background of -now abolished- State Planning Agency, Yılmaz was most recently the chairman of the Budget and Plan Commission of the Turkish Parliament.
When Şimşek accepted the cabinet post, Erdoğan appointed Yılmaz as Vice President. Thus, the cabinet will have two dominant figures in charge of the economy. Will this mean that Erdoğan will finally not only acknowledge that the most pressing problem is the economy – as he said in his May 28 balcony speech – but will also try to do what is necessary? Economist Fatih Özatay recently wrote that Şimsek’s arrival will initially create a favorable wind, but those issues such as the fight against inflation, the exchange rate, growth, and the current account deficit must be “brought back to normal” quickly.
I do not know whether their ethnic origin played a role in Erdoğan’s choice, but it is an interesting detail that both Şimşek and Yılmaz are of Kurdish origin.
Soylu and Akar out of the Cabinet
Before the elections, there were claims that Erdoğan would keep Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in the same cabinet positions if he won the election. Erdoğan won, but Soylu and Akar are handing over their seats. Soylu has been considered a hawk not only in domestic politics, and the fight against terrorism but also in his statements about foreign policy. Governor of İstanbul, Ali Yerlikaya who is replacing Soylu, on the other hand, Ali Yerlikaya, is a moderate administrator despite opposition criticism of his partisanship at times. He fits Erdoğan’s “technocrat cabinet” model. It can be assumed that he will continue the anti-terrorism line without meddling in foreign policy issues.
Under Yerlikaya’s administration, the possibility that migration, disaster, and population affairs will be separated from the Interior Ministry and organized as a separate ministry should be monitored.
Chief of General Staff Yaşar Güler, who will replace Akar, was one of Erdoğan’s most trusted figures in the Turkish Armed Forces; his term of office was extended by the President for one year despite being over the age limit. Güler’s succession after Akar signals continuity in defense and security policies. Changes in the upper echelons of the military can be expected at the Supreme Military Council in the summer.
Top spy as the Foreign Minister
Two of the most talked about names in foreign and security policies are taking over two of the most critical positions. One is finalized: Erdoğan appointed Hakan Fidan, Director of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), as Foreign Minister. President’s Chief Foreign and Security Policy Advisor İbrahim Kalın is expected to replace him. Perhaps the President’s meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Sweden’s candidacy is expected; Kalın has been coordinating the process from the beginning.
In fact, it was noteworthy that Fidan and Kalın were the constant figures in the photographs Erdoğan gave to the press from his office recently. This was most recently evidenced by the fact that Fidan and Kalın were present at Erdoğan’s critical meeting with President Vladimir Putin during the election campaign, while Akar and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu were absent.
Fidan has been in administrative positions in the Turkish security system for the last 20 years (as Prime Minister of TIKA, Deputy Undersecretary to the Prime Minister, Nuclear Sherpa in Iran talks, and head of intelligence), and his foreign ministry could be the beginning of a new era in which Turkey’s foreign policy and operational politics will be handled from a single source.
Two ministers kept their seats
Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy and Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca kept their seats. When they did not apply for parliamentary seats, the press commented that they would “go back to their businesses”.
However, Ersoy, one of Turkey’s most important tourism investors, and Koca, one of Turkey’s most important health investors, had never left their jobs, even though on paper they handed them over to their relatives.
It is understood that Erdoğan is happy with the performance of ministers.
Erdoğan appointed Mehmet Özhaseki, AK Party’s Deputy Chairman for Local Administrations, who was previously the Minister of Environment and Urbanization in Binali Yıldırım’s government, to the same position in his new cabinet (with the addition of Climate Change). This means that Özhaseki will be functional before the local elections in March 2024, with a particular focus on Istanbul and Ankara; Özhaseki lost the mayoralty of Ankara to CHP candidate Mansur Yavaş in the 2019 local elections.
Justice, Family, Industry
Prominent politicians, including former Speaker of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey Mustafa Şentop and AK Party Deputy Group Chairman Bülent Turan, had been mentioned for the post of Minister of Justice. However, Erdoğan appointed Yılmaz Tunç, who is the Chairman of the Justice Commission of the Meclis, the Turkish Grand National Assembly, and the Deputy Group Chairman of the AK Party. At a time when the independence of the judiciary in Turkey is highly debated both inside and outside the country and has a negative impact also on the investment climate, it remains to be seen whether Tunç will be able to convince Erdoğan, especially on the implementation of judicial decisions.
Mahinur Özdemir Göktaş, the only female cabinet member appointed by Erdoğan as Minister of Family and Social Services, is one of the AK Party’s rising stars. Born in Belgium as the daughter of a Turkish labor family, Göktaş entered the Belgian Parliament as Europe’s first headscarved MP but was expelled from her party, by Christian Democrats, for rejecting the Armenian genocide allegations of 1915. Most recently, she was Turkey’s Ambassador to Algeria.
Minister of Industry and Technology Mustafa Varank was also rumored to remain as a cabinet member but was replaced by Deputy Minister Mehmet Fatih Kacır. Kacır, who stood out with projects such as the Youth Technology Festival, Teknofest, and national automobile project TOGG, is another rising star of the AK Party’s new generation.