Politics

Türkiye’s Finance Minister Şimşek: A de facto prime minister

The necessity for the seamless implementation of the Medium Term Plan to exit the economic crisis has turned Şimşek into a de facto prime minister with significant influence but authority confined to his ministry. (Photo: Presidency)

I have no intention of targeting Mehmet Şimşek, the Minister of Treasury and Finance. Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) members are already doing that enough. Despite the defeat in the March 31 elections, they act as if President Tayyip Erdoğan wasn’t the sole decision-maker and they had done everything right, still claiming, “If we had give pensioners a raise, we would have won the election.” On the other hand, they continue to pray to keep their seats the next morning.

This does not change the fact that Şimşek now functions as a de facto prime minister with influence but no authority. This was not his own doing; the need for the smooth implementation of the Medium Term Plan (OVP) to exit the crisis has made Şimşek a de facto prime minister with high influence but limited authority to his ministry.

Did the Minister of National Education ask the President for quotas for teacher appointments? The Minister is told to talk to Şimşek first. Has the Minister of Transportation developed an infrastructure project? His path first passes through Şimşek. Şimşek doesn’t act arbitrarily; at least, we haven’t encountered any outlier examples so far. He consults the Black Book, the Medium Term Program, and reports his opinion to Vice President Cevdet Yılmaz and President Erdoğan. Erdoğan makes the final decision.

I should pause here for a small note: the Prime Ministry office was abolished with the 2018 constitutional change, and all executive power of the Prime Minister’s office was transferred to the Presidency, with the President acting as the head of the government.

De facto prime ministerial influence, Presidential decision

That is why I say Şimşek is like a prime minister who has influence, even if he lacks authority.

This influence will face a severe test, especially in June and July.

You might have read the news that some bureaucrats hastily renewed the service contracts of their office vehicles to circumvent the public sector austerity measures’ three-year rule. It was already expected that the most serious resistance to the austerity measures would come from bureaucratic office holders.

However, the challenges of the next two months are different. Regulations on the Public Procurement Law and the Tax Reform are expected to come before the Parliament. After the 2001 financial crisis, Kemal Derviş introduced reforms to the Public Procurement Law, and endless amendments made to suit contractors’ needs in each major tender, I stop counting at 192. There is a possibility that Şimşek’s proposals will be opposed in Parliament, and I am writing here, the opposition may come from within the AKP group.

Similarly, Şimşek’s proposal to tighten tax audits and reduce tax exemptions must be passed by the end of July; it will not be easy. Therefore, even though Erdoğan holds the authority, Şimşek will need to use his influence as prime minister.

From foreign policy to internal security

Let us remember: If Erdoğan had not taken the responsibility for the economy from Şimşek after winning the 2018 elections and given it to his son-in-law Berat Albayrak by merging the ministries of Treasury and Finance, if he had not tried to implement the thesis “if we lower interest rates, inflation will fall” with Islamic discourse of “Nas,” and if he had not replaced the Central Bank presidents who “did not do what they said,” we would not be talking today about bitter prescriptions, bitter medicine, or why pensions cannot be increased. This is the “prime minister effect” from foreign policy.

The shift from a confrontational foreign policy (and I don’t mean that in a bad way) to a more conciliatory line was parallel to the economic crisis and the need to find external resources from 2022 onwards. If Hamas had not attacked Israel on October 7 and Israel had not started the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza, which has become a disgrace to humanity, we would be talking about energy and transportation agreements with Israel that have shifted the balance. The decision to cut trade in response to Gaza, despite the economic crisis, was the right decision, but the plan behind the appointment of Hakan Fidan as Foreign Minister and İbrahim Kalın as head of MIT was different.

The Gray List and external resources

Interior Minister Ali Yerkikaya’s fight against gangs, mafias, and cybercrime since he took office on the same day as Şimşek is not independent of Türkiye’s goal of being removed from the OECD’s Gray List. It is partly because of the fact that that fight touched to certain political circles whidh have been elbow to elbow with gangs for hears that there there is a reflection of this fight in the Interior Ministry.

You will recall that in one of his first presentations to the Parliament after his reinstatement, Şimşek said that Türkiye’s removal from the OECD’s Gray List would accelerate the flow of foreign resources. June is also important in this respect.

Şimşek’s time as a de facto “unauthorized but effective” prime minister is also limited. We can roughly think of it as the completion of the OVP. But all decision-making and responsibility for what is done belongs to Erdoğan; this is the reality of today’s Türkiye.

Murat Yetkin

Journalist-Writer

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