Zülfikar Doğan
Jul 10 2018

Turkey’s Erdoğan gives son-in-law the keys to the nation’s safe

Taking up new and sweeping executive powers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has appointed his son-in-law to control the nation’s purse strings in a new combined Treasury and Finance Ministry, kept three ministers in their posts in the key Interior, Foreign Affairs and Justice ministries, and made the country’s top general minister of defence.

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül remain in their posts, while Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in-law, moves from the Energy Ministry to head the newly merged Treasury and Finance Ministry. The four are the only members of the cabinet to hold elected positions in parliament.

One possible read of this new cabinet is that Erdoğan wants to continue his decisive, dominant and pre-emptive policies against domestic security threats, his robust foreign policies, and would like to keep the judiciary under close political control.

In the run-up to the election, Soylu barred opposition party leaders from taking places in the front row of mourners at military funerals and threatened the co-chair of the pro-Kurdish party after the killing of a ruling party activist by Kurdish militants. Soylu's re-appointment is an open endorsement by Erdoğan and a sign that the new government will maintain the same policies.

Gül’s continuation at the Justice Ministry also points to further politicisation of the judiciary.

Meanwhile, Chief of General Staff General Hulusi Akar has been appointed minister of defence following the abolition of the Supreme Military Council and the National Security Council.

Çavuşoğlu remained foreign minister despite reports he was to be replaced by Erdoğan’s advisor and spokesman İbrahim Kalın. Çavuşoğlu's re-appointment signals there will likely not be much change Turkey's policies in Syria, Iraq, and the Gulf region.

The Ministry of European Union Affairs was abolished and merged with the Foreign Ministry, a sign that Erdoğan does not have high hopes for Turkey’s stagnant bid to join the EU. This could mean EU-Turkey relations will remain deadlocked, except for negotiations on refugee and visa agreements, and perhaps a renegotiation of Turkey’s Customs Union with the bloc.

The EU seems to be on the same page. Other than pledging an additional 3 billion euros for refugee programmes, EU officials seem to favour suspending accession negotiations and freezing both Customs Union Agreement negotiations and the visa liberalisation programmes.

Albayrak’s appointment to the newly formed Ministry of Treasury and Finance means the president’s son-in-law now controls all the nation's money – the Treasury, the central bank, and the state banks. The appointment is another sign of Erdoğan's willingness to dismiss the concerns of global markets over his unorthodox views on inflation and interest rates.

Among those appointed to the new cabinet from outside parliament, Ruhsar Pekcan, from the Turkey-Syria Business Council was named minister of commerce. Pekcan is known to be an active businesswoman who understands the problems of exporters, industrialists and traders.

Mehmet Ersoy, the new minister of culture and tourism, is also a businessman and owns a tour operator, while the new health minister is the owner and founder of a chain of private hospitals. The new education minister is the owner of a string of private schools.

Fuat Oktay, a seasoned bureaucrat who has been working with Erdoğan for a long time, was named first vice president. Erdoğan has said he will appoint more vice presidents if necessary.

Fatih Dönmez, former undersecretary to the Energy Ministry, has taken over Albayrak’s old role as Minister for Energy and Natural Resources. Therefore, it would not be wrong to say that the solar, geothermal, hydroelectric and thermal energy projects, especially the nuclear power plant, will still be controlled by Albayrak and Erdoğan.

Two senior bureaucrats also take over the Transport Ministry and the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning – two departments crucial to Erdoğan’s economic model.

Zehra Zümrüt, the new head of the Social Services and Family Ministry, is the second female minister in Erdoğan’s cabinet and is known to be close to Erdoğan’s wife and daughters.

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