Are advisers telling Erdoğan everything that’s happening?
Under a different set of circumstances a question on whether President Tayyip Erdoğan’s advisers are telling him everything without adding or withholding anything could be absurd. But under the new presidential government system of Turkey, which gives all the executive power to the president — who has a say in parliament too since he is also the chair of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) — the decision-making mechanism becomes even more important. Turkey has a more centralized and president-dependent government system now.
In ordinary systems, cabinet ministers have their own areas of responsibility and they report to either the prime minister or the president, or both. But the presidential government system, which is unique to Turkey and was approved by popular vote, gives responsibility to presidential directorates and presidential offices. Their responsibilities, at least on paper, overlap with the responsibilities of the ministries, like with the case of the Budget and Strategy Directorate of the Presidency and the Treasury and Finance Ministry. It is not clear whether that was the reason behind the contradiction between the statements of Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, who said their priority would be fighting inflation with lesser public spending, and President Erdoğan, who promised huge public spending projects in his 100-day program. But the situation raises questions about the system.
It is not difficult to observe inertia in government and bureaucratic affairs nowadays in Ankara, stemming probably from certain uncertainties in the secondary decision-making and/or implementing mechanisms. Bureaucrats and even some ministers are reportedly hesitating to take solid steps, afraid of making a mistake in the absence of clear political instructions and guidelines.
This picture is also observed by representatives of foreign companies, banks and embassies in Turkey, as the Turkish government is asking for more direct investments to keep up with the economic growth.
The current depreciation of the Turkish Lira against the U.S. dollar, euro and almost all valid currencies is worrying not only for Turkish people, who are losing their purchasing power every other day, but foreign investors who want to sell their goods to Turkish people and be able to forecast their short and long-term plans. The ongoing currency crisis is somehow linked to the political rifts between Turkey and the U.S. And the political rifts have boiled down to the case of the arrested American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson. The problem is not only affecting Turkish-American relations. Many investors could refrain from coming to Turkey if the rifts with the U.S. turn into a chronic problem.
There is another risk which could reanimate another big problem. The risk is a massive wave of migration from the Syrian province of Idlib into Turkey as recently raised by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. There are jihadist and terrorist elements in the town, and if they mingle with the civilian population in the event of a Syrian army operation, that could bring Turkey face-to-face with another wave of terrorist attacks, which could work as an additional deterrent factor for investors. It might be easier for Turkey to cooperate with Russia and the U.S. in a bid to take precautions against such a migration wave, instead of trying to stop Syria from launching an operation on Idlib in strongly worded statements. Turkey has already started cooperating with the U.S. in Manbij, with no reason it won’t be extended to other parts of Syria.
There are steps that both countries should take, but those have to be taken without waiting very long. Erdoğan and his government would of course need some time for a transition. Some say everything will start working like clockwork after Eid al-Adha — the Muslim “Festival of Sacrifice” that is roughly set to happen at the end of August — some say they will likely happen with the opening of the parliamentary year on Oct. 1, and some say by the end of the year. Perhaps the ministers and bureaucrats could wait a few more months, or even another month. But financial markets might not have that patience.
I wonder whether those factors are conveyed to Erdoğan by his advisers with all their dimensions, both with their advantages and disadvantages.