Erdoğan’s cabinet: Daring and risky

Erdoğan’s cabinet: Daring and risky

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a politician who likes to take risks, believing that without taking risks it is not always possible to win. First he simplifies the problem, preferably to a one-unknown equation, mobilizes all his capabilities on that target without giving much importance to collateral consequences and does whatever is needed to reach the target.

So far, that strategy failed Erdoğan only two times during his 17 years in power. The first one was underestimating the consequences of his alliance with the U.S.-based preacher Fethullah Gülen and his illegal network in the Turkish state apparatus against the secularist establishment. And the second one was trying to achieve two targets at once: The Kurdish problem and the presidency. The latter resulted in losing the parliamentary majority in the June 7, 2015 elections. The first one - his alliance with Gülen - resulted in a military coup attempt on July 15, 2016. In both cases Erdoğan was quick to recover and strike back to win.

In both cases Erdoğan found the same ally backing him: Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). It was a risk to ally with the MHP, but Erdoğan seemingly calculated that it was not as big as losing power. Both Bahçeli and Erdoğan’s strategy in that alliance proved success: Erdoğan shifted to an administrative system in such a way that no leader so far has attempted. With a winner-takes-all perspective, Erdoğan collected all executive powers under the presidency, also with a say in the legislative and judicial branches of the government.

The logic behind it was to make and implement decisions quickly without being “slowed down” by the long and time-consuming procedures of parliament, courts and what has been called by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) circles as the “bureaucratic oligarchy.” Now all are sorted out. With the new constitution and new decrees issued, almost all key appointments in the state apparatus will be made by the president, from generals to university rectors.

It is possible to observe the same daring and risky strategy in the formation of Erdoğan’s cabinet. It is obvious that Erdoğan did not pay any attention to the possible reactions or debates regarding the names he picked for the first “presidential cabinet” of Turkey, without a prime minister and the need of vote of confidence. It seems he focused on the functionality factor.

For example, joining the finance and treasury ministries together and putting them under the command of former Energy Minister and his son-in-law Berat Albayrak has a functional value, rather than a political one. Albayrak represents a rather daring and risky economic approach than, for example, the more cautious approach of former deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek. But now there is no obstacle from any real or assumed source, be it time-consuming procedures or the bureaucratic oligarchy. That also means there is no excuse left to not succeed in the policies to be followed.

Another example is appointing the (now former) Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar as defense minister. To appoint a soldier to a civilian post after many years in Turkey means the need to strengthen the Defense Ministry and also restructure the army according to the government’s needs now represented by the president. After all, Erdoğan did tell people what his plans were and got a 52-percent support for that in the elections.

It is possible to analyze the cabinet in two parts. The first part, perhaps with an inner-cabinet mentality, consists of new generation AK Parti people who have been known to Erdoğan for many years. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu are in that group. It is possible to include Akar, Gen. Yaşar Güler, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan and the president’s chief foreign policy and security advisor, İbrahim Kalın, in this group.

And there are ministries put under the responsibility of technocrat names. Perhaps the exception is Mustafa Varank, one of the president’s former advisors, being named as industry and technology minister. But the rest are either from the business world, bureaucracy or civil society. For example, the new health minister, Fahrettin Koca, is the owner of the private hospital chain Medipol. The new tourism and culture minister, Mehmet Ersoy, is the owner of one of the biggest tourism companies in Turkey, ETS. Ziya Selçuk, a prominent non-partisan educator, has been appointed as education minister. The new transportation minister, Mehmet Cahit Turan, is the former general director of State Roads.

Erdoğan’s idea could be to make the strategic decisions with the help of the inner cabinet and the advisory offices that he is going to establish and leave the matters in direct contact with people to the experts of the fields. Is this a risk? Yes, it is a risk. Because Erdoğan likes taking risks in this world, where almost all leaders are risk-takers.

Murat Yetkin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Cabinet, presidential system