Who will check President Erdoğan?

Who will check President Erdoğan?

If you go to Ankara these days, all you hear are questions and speculations.

Obviously, everyone is curious about who will be the next prime minister. But I sensed that many felt much more preoccupied with critical short- and medium-term questions than the question of who will be chosen as head of the government. 

This fact - in other words, the fact that many are more curious about issues other than who will be prime minister - tells us that it does not matter who Turkey’s next prime minister will be. Rather, what matters is which economic and foreign policy cadres the president will rule the country with, and to what degree his policy decisions and implementations will be subject to checks and balances.

Economy under strict control of Erdoğan

Experts on the economy agree that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was aware of the necessity of structural reforms. While he did not get much done in terms of implementation due to the fact he had to devote his energy to consecutive elections, he was probably planning to encourage his economic team to focus on structural reforms, thinking he was there to stay for at least four more years. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s priority, however, is not structural reforms. He is interested in short-term gains. In fact, one of the reasons behind the rift between Erdoğan and Davutoğlu was a disagreement over Treasury guarantees, according to a daily Hürriyet report. 

In line with tight fiscal policy implementation, Davutoğlu wanted to decrease Treasury guarantees for big projects like Istanbul’s third bridge and its third airport from 100 percent to 80 percent. That was not taken well by the Palace. Perhaps it was no coincidence that right after Davutoğlu announced that he would not be a candidate in the party’s upcoming congress, Erdoğan went to inspect the construction of the third bridge and the third airport from the air. 

Both domestic and foreign companies must be mulling the consequences of one-man rule on economic issues. Soon markets will be hearing about how two very famous international companies were denied entry to Turkey personally by Erdoğan, who turned a deaf ear to pleas from the heads of states where these companies are based. That will certainly not bode well for the foreign direct investment environment in Turkey.

Who will keep Erdoğan attuned to the international environment?

Although major changes are not expected on foreign policy issues, many are wondering who will keep Erdoğan attuned to the international environment. Davutoğlu and Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu have both played critical roles in the implementation of foreign policy. But Erdoğan is said to be angry with Sinirlioğlu for the role he played in securing an appointment for Davutoğlu with U.S. President Barack Obama. 

It is strongly expected that Sinirlioğlu and most of the current deputy undersecretaries will be appointed abroad, while Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who is still the strongest candidate for his post, will feel free to pick his own team in the ministry. But neither Çavuşoğlu, nor the undersecretary he selects (which may be Turkey’s current ambassador in Washington), nor Volkan Bozkır (who is likely to stay as the EU affairs minister), should be expected to warn Erdoğan about certain realities on the ground that are not to his liking.

By bashing the West, Erdoğan has pushed himself into international isolation. He has no friends left in the West who could give him sound advice. So in the absence of domestic and foreign “mechanisms” that will give him healthy assessments about his European interlocutors, he might overplay his hand and his brinkmanship could lead to more Turkish road accidents with Europe. 

So, when it comes to the most concrete question on the current agenda - whether the EU-Turkey refugee deal will hold, resulting in visa-free travel for Turks, after the departure of Davutoğlu - the answer seems to be: 50/50.