From a very tight, closely contested, almost knife-edge and uncertainty, fraud, rigging, complaints-ridden May 2023 election process, now authoritarian Recep Tayyip Erdoğan plucked a tactfully crafted third term as president of the Republic of Turkey, becoming the post-Ottoman longest-serving head of state in the country so far.
I call it a tactfully crafted third term because even the mandate instrument handed to him did not bear any number assigned to his new reign. Constitutionally, neither could he remain the 12th nor numerically become the 13th president. A life president may be, but that is something that could not be inscribed or mounted on it because this was not an open intent of the pivotal elections.
After taking oath of office, President Erdogan unveiled a new cabinet. A quick scan through the line up reveals a big flush of members who paddled his regime to safety through the troubled poll high seas waters. Why did he have to do that? Out of seventeen ministers, only three survived. These are Mehmet Özhaseki responsible for environment, Urbanization and Climate Change; Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, Minister of Culture and Tourism; and Fahrettin Koca, who retained the health ministry portfolio. Why were they retained?
Could Mehmet Özhaseki have remained on board to deal with the pending mess pertinent urban planning issues arising from unethical construction projects which were laid bare by the Turkey-Syria earthquake? He has the entire background information. Could the critical link between tourism and national foreign income levels in economically crippled Turkey factorize Mehmet Nuri Ersoy re-appointment? How about post-earthquake public anger provoking government response having a bearing on Esroy remaining above Erdogan’s cabinet threshold line?
If Erdogan is not planning a fresh interim tactic for remaining in power, this new lineup will be the one to accompany him on his last five-year lap, which Africa indigenous knowledge categorizes as “lala salama” – literal translation, “sleep well”. Is it a ‘sleep-well’ cabinet for his regime model based on ultra-centralism, family members, the inner circle and allies? May be by partially hiding behind the constitution’s five-year term, whose provisions have all the same been somehow usurped, could Erdogan’s new cabinet also be a well calibrated, safe exit flight schedule, whose face value estimated time of departure (ETD) configuration is 2028? The question remains: “How?”
One, to provide for a somehow buffer response to Turkey’s economic woes, unorthodox Erdogan must have had to make a difficult decision and name Mehmet Şimşek as finance minister. The choice amounts to taking on a necessary evil to appease financial markets and provide some relief to the Turkish ever-sinking lira value against the dollar.
An economist and banker, Şimşek is known to oppose Erdogan’s unconventional policies. He served as finance minister between 2009 and 2015 and deputy prime minister in charge of the economy until 2018, before stepping down ahead of a series of lira crashes that year. Now Erdogan, at this point in time, is convinced that he needs the services of this man of international standing and a reassuring person to take the portfolio of a finance minister and take charge of the treasury. Time will tell how far their differing policies on interest rates will match and stimulate growth.
Two: After addressing the economy, President Erdogan’s next area of concern was how to face lift international repute for human rights violations; but without losing track of the secrets behind the July 15 2016 planned-to-fail coup which he called “a gift from God” and on the heels of which he mounted purges in the military and judiciary targeting anybody taken to have links with the Hizmet Movement.
For this critical function of the foreign office, he chose the head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), Hakan Fidan. Famed the powerful spy chief, Fidan is a long-service intelligence officer and diplomat over a period running from 2010 to 2023. He is also a serviceman. He replaces Mehvut Cavusoglu, who served since 2014.
Fidan, whom Erdogan once called his “secret-keeper”, is believed to being prepared to step in Erdogan’s shoes. Erdogan wants him to keep the system he established after the coup. If the Erdogan regime were an aircraft, Fidan would be the black box.
Fidan took the foreign office portfolio on a Monday in Ankara and by Wednesday he called his Swedish counterpart in Stockholm on the phone to deliver the same, persistent Erdogan’s demand for the country to demonstrate real commitment to denying “terrorists” any residence. Fidan and Erdogan match the “like father, like son” concept and practice.
Three: Turkey’s army chief, Gen. Yaşar Güler, will serve as defense minister in the new cabinet in place of Hulusi Akar. He was the military chief during Turkey’s military incursions in Syria in 2019 and 2020 and oversaw subsequent military operations there and in Iraq. The fact that Guler has replaced Hulusi Akar indicates that his combination with Fidan stood chances of better-delivering goods in respect of Erdogan’s new vision over a century.
It also indicates that Akar may have not taken part in the coup plan, and, therefore, could not know which secrets to protect. Both Akar and Güler share a coup narrative of having been briefly taken hostage on the night of a coup attempt and are known to be close allies of Erdoğan. Could Guler be the preferred choice when combined with foreign minister Fidan at the helm of the foreign office?
Four: The new minister of the Interior, Ali Yerlikaya, was the governor of Antep when the MIT (Fidan) was sending weapons to ISIS through the area. What a good combination for pursuing Erdogan’s goals when one has become the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the other of the Interior, replacing Suleyman Soylu?
Five: Yusuf Tekin, former rector of Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli University, becomes the country’s Minister of Education. Known for his hatred of the Hizmet Movement, he is a perfect link with Fidan who holds the same stand and is, therefore, good for Erdogan purposes.
Six: Cevdet Yılmaz, the chairman of the Turkish parliamentary planning and budget commission since November 2020, has been named vice-president. Yılmaz served as minister of development in 2016 and became vice-chair of the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party.
Seven: For record purposes, the Erdogan cabinet consists of a lone female member, Mahinur Özdemir Göktaş, in the family and social services slot. A Belgian-born Turkish diplomat, who served as the country’s ambassador to Algeria, she was expelled from her party In May 2015, for not acknowledging the Armenian genocide on camera, which is a tick for Erdogan. She was the first Belgian parliamentarian to wear a hijab.
Vedat Işıkhan, a former member of the presidential committee of social policy, was named minister of labor and social security; while former Deputy Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Alparslan Bayraktar, was promoted to the position of minister. Others in the lineup are Industry and Technology, Mehmet Fatih Kacir; Agriculture and Forestry, Ibrahim Yamakh; Trade, Omer Bolat; and Transport and Infrastructure, Abdulkadir Uraloglu.
Eight: All said, the big question remains: Who replaces Fidan at the reins of the MIT? Through Erdogan’s manipulations, MIT overseas operations essentially targeting members of the Hizmet Movement were transferred to the presidency. WikiLeaks reveal that Ibrahim, Kalm, who worked for the CIA shadow organization, Stratfor, with a TR-306 code name, is mentioned for the post. Here would be an intelligence man linked with a reputable international spy ring being assigned to head the domestic office.
To be or not to be, whoever takes over from Fidan, the former MIT chief would still be holding an upper hand from his ministerial seat. Fidan is the number one person in transforming the Turkish parliamentary democracy into an authoritarian state ruled by strongman Erdogan with all sorts of plots, crackdowns on opposition groups and cross-border clandestine operations, responsibility of which he will never steer clear.
If anything, Turkish new cabinet regime operations, through rotating on the Erdogan-Fidan axis, will translate into the ‘main two poles’ (Erdogan and Fidan) drawing closer to joining Russian Federation strongman Vladimir Putin at The Hague. Under them, the Hizmet Movement genocide will continue, taking them, operation by operation and day by day, closer to the International Criminal Court (ICC) chambers. History cannot spare them. Death only can.