Turkish cabinet reshuffle is expected

Turkish cabinet reshuffle is expected

A reshuffle of the Turkish cabinet is expected as Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has started to name ministers as mayoral candidates for cities seen as critical in the March 30, 2014 local elections. Erdoğan has so far named two ministers as candidates for two cities, both along the Syrian border. The only female minister in the cabinet, Fatma Şahin, was presented as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) candidate for Gaziantep and Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin presented for Antakya, the capital of Hatay province; both being natives of the provinces. 

But those are not likely to be the only two seats to be filled with other names in the reshuffle. There might be more names from the cabinet in coming days and weeks. Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım is one of them. Erdoğan is determined to reveal his candidacy for the Western port of İzmir. Yıldırım is still trying to avoid that since İzmir is a stronghold for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), but Erdoğan relies on the new Municipal Elections Law he had tailor-made to meet AK Parti needs, including not only suburban but –rather conservative- rural environment votes into the urban municipal votes.

Erdoğan also wanted to present Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan as mayoral candidate for the southern port of Mersin, where votes are divided between all four parties in the Parliament. But Çağlayan, who was actually expecting to be either Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Economy, replacing Ali Babacan, or Foreign Minister, has chosen to retire from politics due to ‘health problems’ when his term ends.

The problem partly comes from an AK Parti rule that bans one standing as a member of parliament after serving in the role more than three times in a row. Most of the ministers, including Erdoğan himself, are completing their third term. Erdoğan has repeated a number of times that he would not change that Party rule, which put deputies and ministers under pressure. And under Turkey’s leader-tutelage political parties system, they have only ‘Take it or leave it’ options.

Among AK Parti names, the Foreign Ministry is the most prestigious post, since it gives more visibility to them inside and outside the country and a presumed autonomy since it involves lots of foreign contacts, shaking hands with important counterparts. Although there is no indication that Erdoğan is going to change his foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, a number of names have already signaled that they would be more than happy if they were appointed; the list includes European Union Minister Egemen Bağış, Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik, AK Parti Deputy Chairman (in charge of foreign relations) Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Chairman of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee Volkan Bozkır, Deputy Energy Minister Murat Mercan and AK Parti’s Deputy Chairman (in charge of economy) Numan Kurtulmuş.

Erdoğan may not touch the foreign ministry at least for now, since it may also be interpreted abroad as an admission to a need for its revision. Yet, there are alternatives scenarios going around through Ankara corridors, which would be refreshing and face-saving for Erdoğan at the same time. One of them is promoting Davutoğlu as Deputy PM, appointing Ali Babacan as Foreign Minister (who had served in that post before Davutoğlu, a name given importance in Western financial and political circles) and appointing Kurtulmuş as Deputy PM in charge of economy.

According to never confirmed information, Erdoğan allegedly promised Kurtulmuş to give a prestigious ministerial post to him when Kurtulmuş merged his own party with AK Parti in 2012. Similarly, Süleyman Soylu AK Parti Deputy Chairman in charge of RD, who joined the party again in 2012 after serving as chairman of the center-right True Path Party (DYP) for years might be expected to find a place in the cabinet reshuffle, too.

It is possible that Erdoğan may take this opportunity to extend the frame of the reshuffle, including more ministries (Industry, Sports are also speculated) and giving a chance for new names in his cabinet, in order to free up places for new names in his party ranks which could give a new impetus to the party not heading to the locals in March but to the Presidential election campaign in July-August 2014.

Will the reshuffle take place before the start of 2014 budget talks in the Parliament mid-December or early January? That actually depends on Erdoğan’s strategy regarding the local elections. Relying on the Parliamentary majority of the AK Parti, he might well see to the reshuffle during budget talks and send the candidates off to carry out their propaganda work in the field rather than defending the budgets which will not be under responsibility anyway.

To close the open end of the story, it is not clear who will replace Fatma Şahin as Family and Social Policies Minister, but it is possible that Erdoğan could appoint one of five AK Parti women deputies who had started to wear headscarves after the ban was lifted. And for the Justice Ministry, the name of Mustafa Şentop rises to the surface. Şentop, who is AK Parti‘s Vice Chairman, was the party’s spokesman on a Parliament committee that was commissioned to write a new constitution but failed to do so. Whether it is to be Şentop or not, the new Justice Minister will be a part of government efforts in pursue of finding a political solution to Turkey’s Kurdish problem.