Erdogan’s new Cabinet: Is there a real reform?
    Technocrats as crisis managers

    ANALYTICS  07 June 2023 - 15:28

    Fuad Shahbazov

    On June 3, 2023, Türkiye’s re-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly announced the new ministerial cabinet replacing nearly all former ministers with new ones. The move came after the critical presidential elections, in which the ruling president Erdogan won though this was the most formidable election for him and the ruling Development and Justice Party (AKP). Of all new cabinet members, only Health Minister Fahrettin Koca and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, who did not run as candidates for parliamentary seats, maintained their positions in the cabinet.

    However, Erdogan's most significant appointment was indeed Mehmet Simsek, former economy chief and internationally respected ex-banker, as the new Finance and Treasury minister. His appointment could mark a departure from years of unorthodox economic policies under Erdogan, which have included maintaining low-interest rates despite soaring inflation and heavy state control of markets.

    Such an appointment is of critical importance as addressing the country's economic troubles is Erdogan's first priority, with inflation running at 43.7%, partly due to his unorthodox policy of cutting interest rates to stimulate growth, while the currency has lost more than 10 per cent of its value against the dollar since the start of the year.

    President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his new cabinet of ministers

    Featuring an array of able technocrats, the new lineup has led to cautious optimism over a possible shift back to Erdogan’s reformist days in the early 2000s that saw the European Union open now stalled full membership talks with the majority Muslim nation of 85 million.

    The cabinet shift came amid rising discontent in Turkish society and among local opposition parties. The increasing domestic opposition and criticism led to the emergence of the most prominent opposition coalition ever with the aim to oust the ruling AKP government, though unsuccessfully. Nevertheless, such a coalition and frequent criticism was a signal for Erdogan to introduce radical changes.

    Another important appointment of President Erdogan was Hakan Fidan, a former top spy, who became the new minister of foreign affairs, replacing the long-term minister and experienced diplomat Mevlut Cavushoglu. Hakan Fidan has been considered to be Erdogan’s closest ally for many years, holding the position of chief of intelligence for more than ten years and supporting him during the critical coup attempt in July 2016.

    Fidan is expected to continue Türkiye's nuanced diplomacy of being a full-fledged NATO ally of the US while also maintaining a close relationship with Vladimir Putin's Russia. With the new foreign minister assuming the office, Ankara’s diplomatic thaw with the West looks more real, particularly with NATO. Regardless of the cabinet's composition, Erdogan’s victory in the May 28 runoff election means that the West will have to continue to work with him.

    Hakan Fidan

    Erdogan's new cabinet is mostly complected of moderate technocrats, while anti-Western figures like Suleyman Soylu and Hulusi Akar were left behind as a goodwill gesture toward the West. This is also because Erdogan would need the political and economic support of the West to tackle the crisis at home. Moreover, Western and Middle Eastern diplomats credit Fidan with greater intellectual heft and subtlety than his predecessor, Mevlut Cavusoglu.

    On the other hand, Russia also likes Hakan Fidan, given his role in recent secret talks in Moscow with the Syrian Intelligence chief and his personal contribution to the diplomatic normalization between Ankara and Damascus. With new appointments, new terms, and a fresh mandate for five more years, Erdogan's foreign policy is expected to become more ambitious. Departing from his ambitious strategy, Erdogan’s main motto for the new term is "Century of Türkiye”.

    Security and defence are the key sectors for President Erdogan, and the recent appointments of new technocrats with relevant backgrounds should not come as a surprise. As mentioned above, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar was replaced by General Yashar Guler, a former Chief of General Staff, who was the military chief during Türkiye's military operations in Syria in 2019 and 2020 and also oversaw subsequent military operations there and in Iraq.

    Yashar Guler

    The new appointments will ease Türkiye's internal and external burden, enabling it to address society's main concerns adequately. Before the elections, Erdogan's government was largely dealing with the PKK threat, a separatist Kurdish terrorist organization, and its affiliations alongside the Syrian and Iraqi border, which complicated Ankara's relations with the ethnic Kurdish minority at home. However, Erdogan's new government will likely shift its firm stance toward the issue seeking an alternative and less harmful way of reconciliation with the ethnic group and focusing more on internally important tasks.


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