Surprise Cabinet reshuffle announced after PM meets with Gül

Former İstanbul Governor Muammer Güler was named as new interior minister. (Photo: AA, Abdulhalim Çelik)

January 24, 2013, Thursday/ 18:54:00

In a surprise move, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has reshuffled his Cabinet and named four new ministers, following a meeting with President Abdullah Gül.

Former İstanbul Governor and Turkey's first undersecretary of public security and order Muammer Güler replaced İdris Naim Şahin as interior minister, while Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Ömer Çelik was appointed as new minister of culture and tourism. Nabi Avcı, who heads the parliamentary Education Commission, was named as new education minister and AK Party Edirne deputy Mehmet Müezzinoğlu replaced Recep Akdağ as health minister.

The change came as a surprise to many but Erdoğan is known for similar Cabinet shakeups, seen previously during his AK Party administration. He also signaled this week that there may be a Cabinet shakeup and there was much speculation in Ankara of the possibility of one.

There is now much debate about the meaning of the new Cabinet, what its priorities will be and what the change of some ministers signifies.

Experts said the Cabinet reshuffle does not mean a substantial change or a major shift in the AK Party's core policies with regards to the economy, foreign policy priorities, security policy, the newly launched peace talks with Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorist organization and many other things.

Key figures that shape AK Party's policies in a number of areas retain their positions. Ahmet Davutoğlu, Ali Babacan, Bülent Arınç are not touched with new change.

Çelik replaces left-leaning Ertuğrul Günay, who was culture and tourism minister for almost six years after joining the ranks of the AK Party in 2007.

Günay was known for his determined battle to repatriate stolen Turkish artifacts. Under his leadership, the ministry launched a massive campaign to bring back historical assets to Turkey which were scattered around the world.

His removal was interpreted as a party strategy for winning the next local elections in the western province of İzmir. Günay, who has a leftist and social democrat background, is expected to be Erdoğan's new candidate for the office of İzmir mayor, a position which is normally won by the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). İzmir is known as a secular bastion for the CHP and the AK Party has often failed to win local elections in the provincial capital.

This time, experts say, the AK Party will emerge with a strong candidate like Günay, who is also popular among secularists and leftists, to woo secular voters in the city.

Before his replacement, Günay recently stated that downloading movies from the Internet does not constitute a legal violation but he warned those who download and make copies of movies with commercial motives that they would face legal charges.

Health is seen as one of the most successful areas for the ruling AK Party and former Health Minister Recep Akdağ was the architect of the party's health policies, which contributed enormously to the party's election victories in past two general elections. He had held the position since 2002, when the AK Party came to power. He was the only minister whose position has not changed over the past 10 years of AK Party administration.

Nabi Avcı replaced Ömer Dinçer as education minister. Avcı, a professor of communication studies, worked as an advisor to Erdoğan and in many other positions within the party.His signature is on the party's major education policies of the recent past.

Güler, who took the spot as the new interior minister, is seen as close to Erdoğan. He is known for his tough stance on the terrorism issue. He held the office of İstanbul governor for seven years.

Ömer Çelik, AK Party deputy chairman and foreign relations chief, will now serve as culture and tourism minister. He has been one of the high profile names within the party, appearing in the media and in public speaking on foreign policy matters to express the party's official stance on various issues. With the new changes, his appointment to the post was interpreted by some experts in the Turkish media as a demotion.

On the Cabinet shakeup, Hüseyin Çelik, the party's spokesman, stated that the new names will certainly contribute to the government. He thanked former ministers for their service in the Cabinet.

Akdağ made a revolution in the field of health. He will be remembered for this. Müezzinoğlu will surely be a successful minister with his dynamism." Çelik said, while also praising Avcı, Ömer Çelik and Günay.

Nabi Avcı thanked the prime minister for choosing him for the position of education minister via his Twitter account. He also praised Ömer Dinçer, the former education minister, for his service during his tenure.

With the appointment of Ömer Çelik as the new culture and tourism minister, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu has replaced Çelik as the AK Party deputy chairman and chief of the party's foreign relations.