Embattled Erdoğan brings loyalists to government in Cabinet reshuffle
Justice Minister Ergin (R) transferred his title to Bekir Bozdağ during a transition ceremony held on Thursday in Ankara. (Photo: Cihan)
The new cabinet announced on Wednesday evening, with 10 ministers being replaced, will be a Cabinet completely dominated by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and one that will be used as a tool to eliminate those who do not share the same views as the prime minister, representatives of opposition parties and analysts have said.
This is a Cabinet that will do whatever it is told by Erdoğan, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu commented on CNN Türk television channel right after the Cabinet reshuffle was announced by the prime minister late Wednesday evening.
Ten ministers, including the four who were involved in the graft investigation launched last week and three who were previously nominated by the ruling party to run for mayorship in the upcoming local elections, were replaced by people from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) ranks or by bureaucrats who have so far worked very closely with the prime minister.
Out of the 10 ministers whom President Abdullah Gül approved, nine are first-time ministers. The removal of Nihat Ergün, former minister of science, industry and technology, and that of Suat Kılıç, minister of youth and sports, came as a surprise.
For Ümit Kardaş, a retired judge and a columnist for the Taraf daily, Erdoğan is acting like a sultan who decides on everything. “He wants to work with a group who will obey him completely without any questions,” Kardaş told Today's Zaman.
Criticizing Erdoğan's style of governing, İdris Naim Şahin, a former interior minister who served until the beginning of the year, said in a statement on Wednesday, in which he announced his resignation from the AK Party, that the government is run by a small oligarchic elite in a manner that excludes broad segments of the party constituency and the Turkish people.
Following the resignation of Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Interior Minister Muammer Güler and Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar -- three of the four ministers who are allegedly involved in the bribery and corruption scandal -- on Wednesday, Erdoğan announced the new Cabinet at a press meeting at the Prime Ministry building at 11 p.m. the same day.
Erdoğan looked tired at the press conference held after his meeting with President Gül. Noting that some of the former ministers needed to leave their positions as they will be running in the local elections, Erdoğan, speaking about the cabinet reshuffle, said: “Some of my colleagues asked for permission to step down due to current developments. Some others were replaced per my discretion and the approval of Mr. President.”
“This is a Cabinet [of ministers] that will not put up any opposition to Erdoğan,” Özcan Yeniçeri, a deputy from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), told Today's Zaman. “Instead of expressing their own views, the deputies of the AK Party have turned into figures that just approve whatever the prime minister proposes,” he added.
As part of the Cabinet reshuffle, Bekir Bozdağ, who served as deputy prime minister, replaces Sadullah Ergin, former justice minister, while AK Party Ankara deputy Emrullah İşler will step into Bozdağ's shoes as deputy prime minister.
Bozdağ's designation as the new justice minister is also meaningful in the context of the ongoing graft probe because he recently announced that he had filed a complaint against the police officers and prosecutors in charge of the graft investigation for having violated the confidentiality of the investigation due to leaks about the allegations to the media.
Kılıçdaroğlu: all part of AK Party's deep state
Efkan Ala, undersecretary of the Prime Ministry, was appointed the new minister of interior replacing Güler. Ala, the only minister who is not a ruling party deputy, was harshly criticized by the CHP leader who claimed during the CNN Türk program that Ala is “one of the core elements of the deep state within the AK Party.”
Kılıçdaroğlu is also of the opinion that Ala may cause dissatisfaction among deputies of the ruling party. Out of the more than 300 deputies of the ruling party, isn't there a competent person that can serve as interior minister, the deputies of the ruling party will possibly be asking themselves, the CHP leader maintained.
Erdoğan's choice of ministers may also be connected to the operation conducted by the government against the shocking graft investigation by removing dozens of high-level police officers, some of them directly connected to the ongoing corruption probe launched by the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor's Office. Ala, as former undersecretary of the Prime Ministry, is maintained to be in charge of the pool of bureaucrats whom the ruling party finds agreeable to work with.
Ala's appointment as interior minister may be an indication that the elimination of some bureaucrats in the police department by the government may well spread to other departments within the ministry.
AK Party Denizli deputy Nihat Zeybekçi was appointed the new economy minister following the resignation of Çağlayan, who faces allegations of bribery. Speaking to the press on Thursday, Zeybekçi thanked Erdoğan for trusting him with such a position.
Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was named the new EU Affairs minister, replacing Egemen Bağış, who also faces accusations of bribery. “[I have been] close friends with Mr. Bağış for a long time. I am privileged to take this position from him,” Çavuşoğlu said during the takeover ceremony at the ministry, also adding that he would receive Bağış's support in handling Turkey's bid to join the EU.
AK Party İstanbul deputy İdris Güllüce became the new environment and urban planning minister in place of Bayraktar, who called on Prime Minister Erdoğan to step down after resigning on Wednesday. Noting that a “majority of the construction plans” mentioned as unlawful in the corruption investigation were approved upon the orders of the prime minister, Bayraktar said: “I believe that the prime minister should step down as well in order to please the Turkish public.”
Sakarya deputy Ayşe İslam, who will be the only female minister in the new Cabinet, replaced Fatma Şahin as family and social policy minister after the latter was named the AK Party candidate for mayor in the southeastern city of Gaziantep in the upcoming local elections. Science, Industry and Technology Minister Nihat Ergün handed over his position to another AK Party deputy, Fikri Işık. Samsun deputy Akif Çağatay Kılıç was named the new youth and sports minister, taking over Suat Kılıç.
Karaman deputy Lütfü Elvan was appointed the new minister of transportation, maritime affairs and communications as Binali Yıldırım, who held the position for 11 years, will run for mayor of İzmir. Yıldırım also faces allegations of corruption in a major high-speed rail line project. Ali Babacan and Beşir Atalay remained in the Cabinet, having served in all AK Party governments since 2002, the year the party came to power.
Those who were appointed as minister for the first time had worked with the prime minister in close quarters in the past. Deputy Prime Minister İşler served as an Arabic translator and advisor to Erdoğan, Elvan, the minister of transportation, served as deputy undersecretary to the prime minister while new Youth and Sports Minister Kılıç worked as deputy personal secretary to the prime minister.