A Cabinet change in Turkey had been rumored for almost a year now, and like a “cry wolf” story not very many people were left believing that it would happen any time soon.
Always full of surprise moves, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan did it by changing four names at once on Jan. 24; the reshuffle was announced in a written statement following Erdoğan’s weekly visit to President Abdullah Gül, who technically appoints ministers.
Yet the replacement of İdris Naim Şahin at the Interior Ministry and Ertuğrul Günay at the Culture and Tourism Ministry were hardly a surprise. The hawkish attitude of Şahin, whose name literally means hawk in Turkish, did not quite fit the Kurdish “peace process” – as Erdoğan called it – concerning dialogue with the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). By coincidence on the night that the reshuffle was done, the Parliament adopted a new law enabling legal defense to be done in the defendant’s mother tongue in courts, which means a relief in PKK-related cases. Muammer Güler, a former governor and newcomer to politics, replaced him and in his first statement said his aim was to contribute “flying doves all over the country”; he is known as a moderate person anyway.
And Ertuğrul Günay, already a major recruitment from the social-democratic opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), was an able and hard-working minister in his field but was outspoken when it came to criticizing Erdoğan, sometimes in public. Ömer Çelik, who replaced him, has been a very close aide to Erdoğan from day one in politics, his latest post was deputy chairman in charge of foreign relations of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti); he will probably follow the same policies as Günay but be less outspoken.
The new national education minister, Nabi Avcı, a professor of communications, is also a very close aide to Erdoğan, like Çelik. Erdoğan wants to implement his new education policy concerning transforming private supplementary education schools – a big black hole in the education and taxation system – into formal schools with Avcı, instead of his former undersecretary, Ömer Dinçer, whose image has been eroded because of protest campaigns by school teachers. Similarly, Erdoğan wants to implement his ambitious new health project to get integrated with global investors with moderate and modest Mehmet Müezzinoğlu instead of Recep Akdağ, who had been in that post for the last 10 years.
The new names in the Cabinet represent the center of Erdoğan’s AK Parti today, not 10 years ago, with all political and economic integration projects.
The reshuffle could also be seen as a move to handle three important projects in front of Erdoğan for 2013. They are the Kurdish dialogue process, presidential system debate and writing of a new Constitution, which covers both and much more. And right after that there will be two elections in 2014, locals and presidential, and the general elections in 2015. Erdoğan wants to walk this walk with a refreshed team, and thus we might expect more new names in his Cabinet along the way, perhaps in a couple of months.
This article was published in the Hurriyet Daily News on Jan. 26, 2013.
Murat Yetkin is the current editor-in-chief of Hurriyet Daily News and a columnist for Radikal, a Turkish publication. He is a political commentator on Turkish and Middle Eastern affairs and has previously worked for BBC World Service and AFP. He can be found on Twitter: @MuratYetkin2.