People in the corridors of the Parliament are still asking why President Tayyip Erdoğan, contrary to widespread speculation, did not include former Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and former Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar in the new cabinet, in other words, in the new A-Team he formed after the May 28 victory.
Let’s leave aside the obvious reasons, namely that according to the Constitution, MPs cannot be ministers. President Tayyip Erdoğan had signaled his intention to keep two of them in his cabinet if he won the elections by not putting Health Minister Fahrettin Koca and Tourism and Culture Minister Mehmet Ersoy on the list of parliamentary candidates; in fact, they continued to serve after Erdoğan won. Likewise, he could have told Soylu and Akar, who have made no secret of their desire to remain as ministers, “not to run for parliament.” The hopes of both politicians lasted until the last minute, but Erdoğan did not include them in the cabinet he announced on June 3, in other words, in his new A-team.
Let’s look at Erdoğan’s important move from the perspective of Erdoğan’s new A-Team, going beyond the names Soylu and Akar.
The heads of the armed bureaucracy
In the Turkish state structure and bureaucracy, there are three departments that have armed forces as part of their work: The Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Interior and to some extent the National Intelligence Organization (MIT).
The Ministry of National Defense includes the Turkish Armed Forces, land, naval and air forces, while the Interior includes police, gendarmerie and coast guard units. The MIT’s own security unit should not be underestimated; for example, it played a role in the repulsion of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. In addition, the domestic, foreign and military intelligence of the Turkish state is also under these three institutions.
The President has in fact changed the heads of three of Turkey’s armed bureaucracies. Two of them, Soylu and Akar, are no longer part of Erdoğan’s A-Team. Hakan Fidan is no longer the head of MIT, but he is still on the A-team as foreign minister.
Factors of exclusion from A-Team
For example, I don’t think Erdoğan has forgotten that he was forced to keep Soylu in his post during the most critical phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, despite Soylu’s clash with Health Minister Koca and his resignation, thanks to the backing of MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli.
Likewise, Soylu and Akar’s approval ratings in some opinion polls, especially in the 2020-2021 period, showed a tendency to catch up with and surpass Erdoğan, and there were rumors in the parliamentary backstage that Soylu could become the head of the AKP after Erdoğan.
Soylu’s recent foreign policy outbursts, especially against the US and Germany, which put the Foreign Ministry in a difficult situation, and Soylu and Akar’s rivalry in the fight against the PKK, which came to the fore in terms of media visibility, also seem to have displeased Erdoğan. The new National Defence Minister Yaşar Güler’s reluctance to be as open to media relations as Akar is attributed to this.
It is obvious that the Akar-Soylu-Fidan trio has made unprecedented progress in the fight against the PKK with preventive action, especially since July 15, 2016 coup attempt. Erdoğan may have wanted to prevent any tendency, especially in the context of Soylu and Akar, to turn this into a political gain for the future.
The new A-Team: The other names
The new Defence Minister Güler is actually a military officer who has been working closely with President Erdoğan since 2013. For ten years, first as the Second Chief of the General Staff, then after July 15th as the General Commander of the Gendarmerie General Command, the Commander of the Land Forces and finally as the Chief of the General Staff, he is a name Erdoğan knows and he knows Erdoğan. Now he is the new member of the A-Team.
Another member of Erdoğan’s former A-Team who is now in a different position is İbrahim Kalın. Kalın, who was the President’s National Security Advisor, is now the head of MIT, succeeding Hakan Fidan.
His replacement as the advisor, Akif Çağatay Kılıç, is the new member of the A-Team. His first experience in this position, like Sweden’s NATO membership negotiations, has been one of Türkiye’s most important foreign policy challenges. It is also noteworthy that Erdoğan replaced Kalın with Kılıç, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, who has a Western-oriented outlook.
The new member of the A-Team is Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya, whom Erdoğan appointed Interior Minister in Soylu’s place. It was reported in the press that one of Yerlikaya’s first tasks was to look into the Soylu-era files.
Two more positions
There are actually two other posts that Erdoğan has always considered part of the A-Team. The Vice President and the Speaker of the Parliament. Both have changed. There had been talks in parliamentary circles that the former Speaker of Parliament Mustafa Şentop and Vice President Fuat Oktay would be replaced. But both are no longer members of the A-Team.
Erdoğan reaffirmed his trust in Numan Kurtulmuş, whom he had previously appointed Deputy Chairman of the AKP, by nominating him for the position of Speaker of the Grand National Assembly. His appointment of Cevdet Yılmaz, a politician with a background in economics, as Vice President shows that his priority this term is to get the economy back on track.
Perhaps we should also consider Mehmet Şimşek, the Minister of Treasury and Finance, as part of the A-Team, but it is too early for that.