What is behind Turkey’s intelligence chief returning to his post?

What is behind Turkey’s intelligence chief returning to his post?

A month after his resignation from his position as head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Hakan Fidan announced on March 9 that he wanted to return to his post, withdrawing his candidacy for parliament in the June 7 elections on the list of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti).

When he announced his resignation on Feb. 7, most people thought it was something coordinated between him, President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, not only because of Fidan being the national intelligence chief of the country, but also his unique position in talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan in pursuit of a political settlement to the Kurdish problem.

But when Erdoğan slammed his decision the next day by implying Fidan might have been lured with ministerial posts, the reaction was read as a major discrepancy between number one and two of the Turkish state. Who could it be to offer a ministry position to the intel chief other than PM Davutoğlu, who was quoted in pro-government media as saying, “I need Hakan in politics,” while trying to convince Erdoğan? When Fidan applied for candidacy officially on Feb. 10, despite strong objections from Erdoğan, people thought Davutoğlu had begun to use his prime ministerial power. 

Hoping that the storm was over, reporters asked Erdoğan on his way back from Saudi Arabia on March 3 whether he was still upset with Fidan. There were already reports that the two had met in Medina. Erdoğan’s answer was “Yes,” he was still upset. “From now it is up to him what to do,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying. It was pretty much clear that even if Fidan was elected and chosen as a minister (probably foreign) by Davutoğlu for a newly-formed cabinet, Erdoğan could use his veto power to deny Fidan.

On March 9, Fidan announced in a written statement that he had withdrawn his candidacy and was ready to assume any position that would allow him “to serve his country and his nation.” Soon after, government spokesman and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç told the press after a cabinet meeting chaired not by the PM but rather the president, that Davutoğlu had appointed Fidan back to his former MİT post and Erdoğan had approved it.

The Kurdish problem seems to be the main motivation behind Erdoğan’s insistence, besides an effort to clear the scratch on his unobjectionable image. With his final goal forcing a shift to a super-president model for Turkey (and himself), Erdoğan thinks the Kurdish problem could be a key. If the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is able to exceed the unfair 10 percent threshold in the coming elections, Erdoğan can wave goodbye to his strong presidency target because of altering seat distribution. Perhaps he hopes that Fidan, through his dialogue with Öcalan in the İmralı island-jail, could fix that.

But there might be another reason for Erdoğan’s insistence: Erdoğan’s and Davutoğlu’s struggle against the sympathizers of Fethullah Gülen (a U.S.-based Islamic scholar and a former ally, now arch enemy, of Erdoğan) within government agencies, which they label as the “parallel structure” within the state.  Fidan is a tough name in that fight and seems indispensable for Erdoğan, especially while heading for elections.

But opposition parties have concerns based on the political intelligence that could be collected by the MİT and used against them in the democratic political struggle.

Claiming that Fidan is going back to his MİT post showed Davutoğlu was under Erdoğan’s tutelage and had no initiative in governing Turkey, opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said they object to the national intelligence agency becoming a backyard for the ruling AK Parti. Oktay Vural of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) said Fidan has officially declared his political colors and they have lost trust in him. İdris Baluken of the HDP said the move showed the AK Parti is suffering serious inner governance problems and they were worried that it could hamper recent developments in the dialogue with the PKK.

Fidan is going back to his office, but not without problems.