Turkish President Erdoğan rejects Interior Minister's resignation

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has rejected Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu's resignation in a statement late Sunday, hours after Soylu resigned over an abrupt weekend lockdown in Turkey to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Soylu, in a statement on Twitter, said he takes all responsibility for the chaos caused by the announcement of the full 48-hour lockdown in 31 provinces. Soylu, who has held the post since August 2016, will continue his job, the presidential statement noted.

The interior ministry announced the full lockdown on Friday night, two hours before it came into effect at midnight without giving any pre-warning for the masses to prepare. Following the announcement, people flocked to the nearest grocery stores and bakeries to buy essential food items for the weekend.

Shortly after, images appeared of long queues of people lining up next to each other with no consideration for the four-feet gap recommended by the experts. The government’s sudden decision to go to the full lockdown and the ensuing scenes of chaos were condemned by many, including Istanbul’s opposition mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu.

Following the announcement of the resignation, Turkey’s lira, already battered by the pandemic, fell to as low as 6.74 per dollar. The currency, which has lost 11 percent of its value this year, equal to its decline in 2019, will probably fall to 7 per dollar by the end of the quarter, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) said last week. 

Before Erdoğan's rejection of the resignation, the hashtag "We don't accept the resignation,” #İstafayıKabulEtmiyoruz, quickly became a top trend on Twitter following the resignation of Soylu, a ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) favourite among supporters.

Some of the leading pro-President Recep Erdoğan social and media figures tweeted messages praising the interior minister.

“All of my experience, should not have led to the emergence of such scenes, whose responsibility rests on my shoulders,’’ Soylu said in a statement released on Twitter, taking responsibility of the execution of the decision, but not the decision itself. 

Fatih Tezcan, an outspoken pro-Erdoğan journalist and Islamist, in a series of tweets, said the resignation decision would "upset the nation."

Another pro-Erdoğan media figure, columnist Cem Küçük, took to Twitter on the resignation. “The Soylu, who I know very well, would not resign only due to Friday night,” Küçük said.

Cemil Barlas and Hilal Kaplan, two media figures identified with the Pelican Group, a secret group with close ties to Erdoğan, called on the president to refuse the resignation.

Barlas said in a tweet that the “decision was a mistake,’’ adding, “the resignation should have not been the way to go.”

Kaplan, on the other hand, suggested that the resignation should have been withdrawn.

Soylu has been reportedly at loggerheads with Erdoğan’s son-in-law and the second powerful figure in the government, Berat Albayrak.

For a long time, the media flagship of the Pelican Group, Sabah newspaper, did not cover Soylu’s activities, despite his role as one of the top ministers in the government. 

The Pelicanists got their name after a document was leaked listing points of contention between Erdoğan and the former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu. The leak led to Davutoğlu’s resignation in 2016. The document was called “the Pelican file”, a reference to a John Grisham political thriller.

Daily Sabah, English flagship newspaper of the Erdoğan government, chose to break the resignation story, by saying the move followed the “botched announcement of curfew Friday night after which 250,000 people flooded shops and bakeries.”

This is not the first time Erdoğan faces an unexpected resignation from one of his top figures. Turkish Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan resigned in 2015 to be a candidate for then the prime minister Davutoglu’s AKP. Erdoğan subsequently rejected the resignation and Fidan went back to the directorship of the Turkish Intelligence Agency, MIT.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.