Ministers play ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ in Ankara

Ministers play ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ in Ankara

In his first move for the new administrative structure in Turkey following the April 16 referendum to consolidate all executive power in presidential hands and allowing the president to lead a political party, President Tayyip Erdoğan made his move and changed some top positions in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) on May 29. He had been re-elected as chairman at the party’s emergency congress on May 21.

Mahir Ünal, the new party spokesman, said he was honored to have been appointed by the president for this post at this important time. He had previously served as culture and tourism minister as well as the AK Parti group spokesman in parliament. 

The changes in the party’s new Central Executive Board (MYK) are not as dramatic as some had speculated. Rather, the changes indicate a gradual transition.

The next significant move is expected in the cabinet, as it is the showcase of the government. Ministers in Ankara are thus currently playing games of “he loves me, he loves me not” as they try to predict whether they will remain in their cabinet posts, or be reshuffled, or be replaced. Most of them will probably learn it from the media, or perhaps just minutes before the official announcement. 

Two general scenarios are being spoken about in Ankara’s political backstage. One foresees Erdoğan making a bold change in the cabinet, changing important ministries like the Foreign Ministry, Interior Ministry, and Economy Ministry. The other scenario foresees him handing the initiative for rather low-profile changes to Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, whose office was abolished by the April 16 referendum but is still holding his post until the harmonization laws are approved by parliament. 

The political atmosphere indicates a likely scenario somewhere between those two, though closer to the second. Giving the initiative to Yıldırım as a political goodwill gesture could be a factor, after Erdoğan has already given him the newly created post of First Deputy, or Acting Chairman. 

Another factor suggesting a gradual cabinet change is the recent deal with the European Union. The 12-month roadmap to mend ties between Turkey and the EU, as was discussed during Erdoğan’s contacts in Brussels on May 25, gives Turkey a chance to decrease tension in domestic politics and possibly find a new balance if relations with the EU improve. If there is an improvement in relations with the EU, it may bring more moderation to Turkish politics and also focus foreign policy more on securing better relations with the West. That could have an effect on the future of the ongoing state of emergency, Erdoğan’s earlier pledges to reinstate the death penalty, and the dire situation of media freedom in Turkey.

Erdoğan hopes that in the period between the first formal political contact of the 12-month road map with the EU in mid-June and the German election on Sept. 24, the fate of the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and the West’s stance regarding suspects of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamist preacher accused of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt, will also become more clear. 

It is not only ministers in Ankara who are playing “he loves me, he loves me not.” Erdoğan is likely to use the next few months to focus on restructuring the AK Parti ranks from top to toe. Observers will soon be monitoring who out of the many presidential advisers no longer has a place next to Erdoğan in the Beştepe presidential palace.