President Erdoğan no longer has excuses for failure
Turkey’s historic change in its governmental system took place on July 9 after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was sworn into office with new powers. Turkey’s nearly 95-year-old parliamentary system has now been replaced by an executive presidential system with major differences from many other models being implemented in the world.
In less than 24 hours, he issued three presidential decrees to set up new governmental architecture, including the office of the vice presidents and 16 ministries, nine councils, four offices and scores of new institutions under the presidency. The entire civilian and military bureaucracy is undergoing a drastic change with not many healthy predictions on how all these changes will have an impact on running a country like Turkey.
With the abolishment of the office of the prime minister and the cabinet, the presidency has therefore become the sole executive power to run the country. More decrees are expected in the coming days that will finish the making of the new governmental architecture.
One of first things Erdoğan did after being inaugurated was to unveil his vice president and 16 ministers. He chose Dr. Fuat Oktay, undersecretary of the outgoing prime ministry and therefore head of the entire Turkish bureaucracy as his only vice president. Oktay had served as the head of Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and had earned a fair reputation out of his performance.
The cabinet members can be assessed under three divisions: In the first group, there are Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, and Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül. They represent the political leg within the cabinet.
The second group is composed by former senior bureaucrats: Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Cahit Turan, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Youth and Sports Minister Mehmet Kasapoğlu. All these figures had served in relevant ministries before being appointed as ministers.
The third group is made up of professionals. Among them are Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy, who founded and ran a successful tourism agency and hotel chain, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, founder of a private hospital chain, Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan, who had served in various economic and trade chambers, and Education Minister Ziya Selçuk, founder of a private college chain.
Continuity on foreign, security policies
Another analysis tells more about the agenda and priorities of Erdoğan’s first government: The continuity on foreign and security policies and uncertainty over economic policies. The fact that Çavuşoğlu will continue his job under the new system can be interpreted that continuation on the main pillars of the foreign policy is very likely.
Running Turkish diplomacy since 2014, Çavuşoğlu has vast knowledge on the diplomatic agenda and has established a good network in the world. His communication abilities are seen as an asset in Turkey’s diplomacy, although so many challenges await him, particularly on ties with the West. With the abolishment of the EU Ministry, Çavuşoğlu will have to spend more time shuttling between various EU capitals in the next term.
As for security policies, the appointment of former Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar as the defense minister says a lot. It should be noted that promoting a military bureaucrat as a defense minister is very, very rare in Turkish politics. Akar was at the head of the Turkish military when a group of Gülenists in the army had tried to stage a coup to topple the government in mid-2016. He had very much been criticized at the time for not having known of it before it took place and left more than 250 people dead behind.
Uncertainty over economic management
It seems Erdoğan has preferred to evaluate the former top soldier with his performance during Turkey’s cross-border operations into Syria and Iraq in the last two years in a bid to eliminate terrorists. The president’s decision to pick him as the defense minister and to continue with Süleyman Soylu as the Interior Minister shows the continued fight against terror off the Turkish border will continue to be one of the priorities.
Uncertainty is about economic policies. Despite expectations, Erdoğan’s economic management did not include any figure from previous governments. Observers of the economy had at least hoped to see former Finance Minister Naci Ağbal in the new cabinet. Erdoğan’s son-in-law will be responsible for supervising the economy as the treasury and finance minister. Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan and a former presidential advisor Mustafa Varank will accompany him as the industry and technology minister.
Still, we need to hear from this team about their views on macroeconomic balances and on how to fight inflation and other structural problems. The respect of the independence of the Central Bank is also going to be closely observed in this new era. The first reactions of markets should be well-assessed in this regard.
As briefly seen, Erdoğan could set up his ideal governmental system in his 16th year as ruler. Thus, he can now evade bureaucratic oligarchy and military tutelage over politics, which he had long complained about. As he had said late July 9, “Afterwards, neither we nor future presidents have any excuses left over malfunctions and deficiencies in running our executive jobs.”