Erdoğan uses media power to obscure son-in-law's shock departure

Turks who follow political developments in the country through the mainstream media were left in dark about the abrupt departure of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law from Turkey’s most powerful ministerial post at the weekend.

Turkish Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, who is married to Erdoğan’s daughter Esra, said via his Instagram account on Sunday that he was resigning for health reasons. But apart from a handful of non-partisan news outlets, the Turkish media played ostrich for more than 24 hours until Erdoğan officially accepted the resignation late on Monday.

Albayrak, followed by millions on social media, suspended his Twitter account as soon as he resigned. His Instagram account has now vanished too.

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The only official statement remaining on perhaps the most shocking resignation in Turkey’s recent political history is a written acknowledgement issued by the presidency. Erdoğan considered and then accepted a request by his son-in-law to be relieved of his duties, according to the press release.

The departure of Albayrak and the manner in which his resignation has been handled underscores Turkey’s transformation during Erdoğan’s 17-year rule from a parliamentary, pluralistic democracy with an independent media into a country of one-man rule.

About 90 percent of the Turkish media is controlled by businessmen close to the president after the country's largest media company Doğan was bought by the Demirören group in 2018. Earlier this year, Erdoğan’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) passed a social media law through parliament giving his government vast new powers over content. 

In a reflection of Erdoğan’s vice-like executive grip over the country, he appointed Albayrak as treasury and finance minister right after formally gaining sweeping new executive powers in July 2018.

During his tenure, Albayrak, 42, went about executing pre-approved policies on the economy. His two tumultuous years in office saw Turkey endure a deep economic recession, the COVID-19 pandemic and a 45 percent slide in the lira - the worst performer in emerging markets this year - double-digit inflation and surging unemployment. 

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 Former Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak presents Turkey's 2019-2021 economic programme in September 2018 (Anadolu)

 

Many in Turkey, including senior officials of Erdoğan’s AKP, had believed that the president was lining Albayrak up as a future party leader and even as his possible successor.

“Resigning like this caused serious damage to both Erdoğan and the party,” one AKP official said, according to Reuters.

Initial news of Albayrak's resignation was shared by pro-government newspaper Yeni Şafak via its English language Twitter account, only for the news to be swiftly deleted without explanation.

The Turkish media acted "cautiously in fear of upsetting Erdoğan" by covering up the resignation before they got a clear picture of the Turkish president's stance on the matter, according to veteran conservative columnist Fehmi Koru.

Even the Sabah media group, one of the country’s two largest, has kept virtually silent on Albayrak’s departure despite it being run by his brother, Serhat Albayrak.

"Some people said “they (media) cannot talk or write on the resignation before the Turkish presidency” and they turned out to be right," Koru said.

The fact that Albayrak’s Instagram and Twitter accounts are now both unreachable indicates that Erdoğan wants evidence of his son-in-law’s unorthodox means of resignation confined to history.

As of Tuesday, Turkey’s columnists, renowned for their daily musings over the comings and goings in politics and social life, remained tight-lipped when it came to Albayrak’s departure.

That has left international media outlets such as Reuters, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg to probe the reasons behind the resignation and to speculate about its possible impact on Turkey's economy. Apart from that, only silence remains.