[OPINION] Turkey’s new government spells more troubles for all

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Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C), poses with the members of the newly presented cabinet following a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, on July 9, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN
Abdullah Bozkurt

Abdullah Bozkurt

An Orwellian nightmare is unfolding in Turkey, where life for Turks and foreigners has gotten much worse in the post-election period during which the paranoia of the country’s strongman has started to run even deeper, painting a bleak prospect for the nation of 81 million that straddles Asia and Europe.

The fear factor in the mindset of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has clearly reflected itself in the Cabinet reshuffle, bringing more loyalists and hard-core Islamists to the government and allowing cronies to rise to increased prominence. The face of the Cabinet can only be interpreted as a further indication that Erdoğan is closing ranks with his inner circle to run an even tighter ship in the governance of Turkey. He will rely more on the combative nature of the new government, which appears to be designed more like a war cabinet to fight off the Turkish president’s real, or rather perceived and often imaginary, enemies.

Erdoğan remains obsessed with the West in general and the United States in particular and believes they are aiming for his ouster from power. He doesn’t trust Russia or China, either, but feels compelled to cozy up to them to gain leverage in negotiations with the West. Even the slightest criticism is enough to rattle Erdoğan’s psyche, which is quite troubling for people around him in shaping reasonable policies to normalize Turkey’s ties with allies. It will be nearly impossible to pursue a coherent policy with Turkey as long as this man remains in power and continues to rule with his unstable psyche and troubling emotional state. Compounding this problem further is his vision of himself as a kind of caliph tasked by God to protect all Muslims in the world. His pet project of expanding Islamist proxies even in the United States and Europe is part of his self-conceived missionary work.

All this requires a cluster of loyalists and partisans constantly hovering around this dictator, who is disconnected from world reality and does not have a full grasp of how things work in global politics. Since the civil service in Turkey was destroyed with over 150,000 qualified professionals purged from government jobs including one-third of all diplomats, Erdoğan has to rely on unsavory figures outside the government while pursuing his pet projects in Turkey, the region and the world. We’ll likely see more Islamist groups such as the al-Qaeda-linked İHH charity group or neo-nationalist parallel structures run by Iranian lackey Doğu Perinçek filling the void in the government that was created by mass purges and arrests.

As expected, Erdoğan placed his son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who is being groomed as heir to the throne if the Turkish president is able to create a royal dynasty, in the number two position in the government. Officially, Berat will be in charge of finance and the treasury while he’ll also be calling the shots on foreign policy and domestic matters through the henchmen his father-in-law selected to fill the Cabinet positions. He will lean heavily on other members of the Cabinet to do Erdoğan’s bidding. Fuat Oktay, the vice president, has no real portfolio and has no sway in the government. His role will be more like a secretary, limited to managing the daily running of the government at the technical level, and he will have little or no impact on actual policy decisions.

Abdülhamit Gül and Süleyman Soylu, two cronies who have served as justice and interior ministers, kept their jobs in the new Cabinet thanks mainly to their secret efforts to rig the elections on June 24, 2018 with fraudulent votes that barely carried Erdoğan to a little over 50 percent, enough to declare him winner in the first round. Soylu, who controls the population registry, the main database that feeds the voter registration system, and Gül, who oversees the electronic voting reporting system called SECSIS, manipulated the system to ensure a win by Erdoğan and his allies. There is no mechanism available to check such fraud in Turkey, and the opposition parties have no access to these systems, even if they manage to ensure voting and counting are done properly at the polling stations, at which they failed terribly, I must add.

Gül and Soylu were also rewarded for their efforts in the relentless persecution of critics from all walks of life when the former abused the criminal justice system to prosecute opponents and dissidents and the latter kept rounding up some 1,000 people on average on a weekly basis to sustain Erdoğan’s empire of fear. In the post-election era, we’ll likely see an escalation of an already bad track record on human rights violations in Turkey with these two henchmen having kept their jobs. Considering that both of these men are staunchly anti-Western politicians, the xenophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-American euphoria will be further fueled in Turkey by senior leaders of the government who are supposed to tackle such symptoms in the first place.

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who enjoys no real support in his own constituency and lacks robust support from the party grass roots, knows well that he has to please the master, Erdoğan, in order to hold on to his position. That is what he did in the past, and it apparently paid off. For sure he is no diplomat but rather a bully who often bashes Turkey’s allies and partners with the hope that he will curry favor with Erdoğan, who usually spews similar and hurtful narrative in slamming other countries and their leaders. I know for a fact that Çavuşoğlu is despised by his interlocutors, who find him no gentleman to engage with in diplomatic work but a rather conniving and double-dealing politician who often exploits foreign policy initiatives for domestic consumption. No wonder he has been refuted time and again when he lied flat out on issues that concerned other countries. With him in the Cabinet, the belligerent rhetoric and meddlesome Islamist discourse in Turkey’s foreign policy will continue.

Portfolios with big money are naturally delegated to people who have worked with Erdoğan at a personal level for years and helped him enrich his family at the expense of taxpayers. Take, for example, Fahrettin Koca, a hitherto little-known figure who was named health minister by Erdoğan. My sources tell me that he has worked closely with Erdoğan in expanding lucrative hospital networks like Medipol and provided huge benefits to Erdoğan in kickbacks and commissions out of government payouts for benefits and awarded contracts and tenders. Erdoğan’s family is Medipol’s secret business partner, and some of the money Erdoğan stashed in cash was laundered through this hospital chain. Koca will be shaping government health policy and introducing reforms that are nothing but schemes to bring in more cash for the Turkish president and his cronies.

Mehmet Cahit Turhan, Erdoğan’s chief aide, is taking over the Transportation and Infrastructure Ministry, which doles out major, multi-billion dollar construction and road building projects. Most corruption schemes in the last decade have originated from such deals that were personally approved by Erdoğan when Turhan was a senior bureaucrat in the same ministry. He was rewarded for his efforts when Erdoğan brought him to the palace in 2015. Mustafa Varank, Erdoğan’s sidekick who has no real expertise, was made minister of industry and technology. He has been running troll and bot armies on behalf of Erdoğan from the palace as chief advisor in order to disparage and defame the Turkish president’s critics. Now he can use his ministry’s assets to beef up this troll army. Fatih Dönmez, Albayrak’s number two when he was running the Energy Ministry, will be heading the same ministry on behalf of Erdoğan and his son-in-law. It is clear that Erdoğan has allocated important portfolios with big bucks to the henchman he trusts.

Turkey is heading towards more troubling times, and there is no mechanism left to check such a rapid slide from any kind of normalcy. Erdoğan, his family members and his business and political associates will continue to prosper and enjoy the good life while the rest of the country will regress further. An unstable Turkey with a paranoid leader running NATO’s second largest army in terms of manpower will certainly have far-reaching implications for Turkey’s neighbors and create more troubles for allies and partners alike.

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