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MURAT YETKİN >Something is bubbling beneath surface in Turkish government

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Is something happening within the Turkish government?

That was one of the most popular questions among guests attending the ceremony in the Palais de France in Istanbul on Nov. 11, where French Ambassador Laurent Bili presented a Legion D’Honneur medal to one of Turkey’s leading industrialists, Bülent Eczacıbaşı, for his contributions to both Turkish-French relations and to cultural life in Turkey.

Given the government-dominated political atmosphere in Turkey nowadays, the question might be a dangerous one to ask in public. Still, it remains a matter of curiosity because of continuing signals from within the government.

The fact that President Tayyip Erdoğan has been delivering no fewer speeches than his time as prime minister and chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), and the fact that his words are equally political, slamming the opposition parties just like he did before - despite his constitutionally bi-partisan status - is only part of it. He did not hide the fact that he was going to be a more active president who would not leave government affairs to the prime minister only; so his active stance was something expected, even if it overshadows Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu from time to time.

But there are more indications than the frequent speeches.

The first was about the appointment of Davutoğlu’s undersecretary. Erdoğan would have liked to see Davutoğlu keep his last trusted undersecretary, Fahri Kasırga, but Davutoğlu’s choice was to bring in Gökhan Çetinsaya, the head of Turkey’s Higher Education Board (YÖK). The end result was the appointment of Kemal Madenoğlu, a former undersecretary of the Development Ministry, whose most recent job was to monitor the construction of the new $615-million Presidential Palace. Madenoğlu was approved by Erdoğan as Davutoğlu’s undersecretary, Çetinsaya was removed from office and hired by Davutoğlu to his team of advisors, and Erdoğan replaced Çetinsaya as the head of YÖK with Yekta Saraç. Saraç is publicly known as the brother of Fatih Saraç, who was nicknamed “Alo Fatih” after Erdoğan allegedly called him to manipulate the media, with recordings of the conversations released soon after the (now closed) Dec. 17 and 25 corruption probes.

There has been no Treasury undersecretary for the last two-and-a-half months, since the former İbrahim Çanakçı left for his IMF post. There are reports that different wings of the government have been lobbying for different names for the position, a practice that Turkey is familiar with from past coalition governments.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek has been subject to criticism within the AK Parti for revealing the real cost of the new Presidential Palace.

In addition, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekçi complained on Nov. 12 that there were five ministries in charge of different branches of the economy, too many to operate effectively, and suggested that two ministries would be enough. It was as if he is not a member of the government, but rather a spokesman for the opposition.

What’s more, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, an MP for the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said on Nov. 11 that “unfortunate statements” by Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç regarding the covert talks for a political solution to the Kurdish problem were “probably due to a lack of information.” Arınç, a veteran AK Parti personality, is officially in charge of the talks, but the HDP deputies who visit the jailed head of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, to give information and take instructions usually talk to another deputy prime minister, Yalçın Akdoğan, for debriefing after those visits.

There is also public tension between the Energy and Labor Ministries following a series of fatal mining disasters. The competition within the government over the Foreign Ministry, despite the fact that it is currently headed by Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, is now also easy to observe for an outsider.

These are just some of the examples causing business circles to ask whether something is bubbling beneath the surface in the government. Perhaps Davutoğlu could give an answer to this after his return from the G-20 Summit in Australia next week.

November/13/2014

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