by instituDE, published on 5 June 2023

Erdogan announces new cabinet members

President Erdogan has announced the new cabinet of the Turkish government on June 3. Below are brief descriptions and comments on some key figures in the cabinet.

Hakan Fidan, Foreign Minister: Fidan served as head of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) from 2010 to 2023. He started his professional journey as a non-commissioned officer in the Turkish Armed Forces. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland University College. Fidan further pursued his studies at Bilkent University, completing both his master's and doctoral degrees. Throughout his career, he also held diverse positions in diplomacy and administration, including the President of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA), Deputy Undersecretary of the Prime Ministry for foreign policy and international security and Special Envoy of the Prime Minister.

Under his leadership, MIT has emerged as a powerful state institution that is immune to checks and balances. During his first years, he oversaw the secret peace talks between the government and the PKK, which failed to produce any tangible results. After the 15 July coup attempt, MIT orchestrated the kidnappings of numerous dissidents from at least 31 different countries according to Freedom House's Transnational Repression database. Fidan himself admitted that over 100 people were brought to Turkey as part of covert operations. According to the UN, these individuals were subjected to arbitrary arrests, detention, enforced disappearance and torture. 

İbrahim Kalin, Head of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT): 

Kalın received his M.A. degree in Malaysia in Islamic theology and Ph.D. from George Washington University under the supervision of Islamic philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr. From 2002 to 2005 he was a faculty member at the Department of Religious Studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. Kalin was appointed as the prime minister's chief advisor on foreign policy in 2009 and became the first coordinator of the Prime Ministry's Public Diplomacy Coordination Office, established in 2010. In 2012, he assumed the position of Deputy Undersecretary at the Prime Ministry. He was appointed as the Deputy Secretary-General of the Presidency after Erdogan's election as president in 2014. In the same year, he was appointed as a spokesperson for the Presidency and was granted the ambassadorial title by President Erdogan. From 2018 to 2023, he was Deputy Chairman of the Presidential Security and Foreign Policies Board and Presidential Chief Advisor.  

Kalin is also the founding-director of the SETA Foundation, where he served as the director from 2005 to 2009. SETA is a prominent think-tank known for its pro-AKP stance, actively promoting the AKP's narrative to a Western audience. Notably, several members of this organization have later held key positions within the government, including Fahrettin Altun, who currently serves as the Presidency's Director of Communications and Nuh Yilmaz, MIT’s former Chief Press Advisor.

Mehmet Simsek, Finance Minister: Simsek, known for his strong background in finance and economics, held significant positions within the Turkish government. He embarked on his political career as a member of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and served as an MP starting from the 2007 general elections. Throughout his tenure, he assumed several crucial ministerial roles, including State Minister for Economy and Deputy Prime Minister in the cabinets headed by Erdogan, Ahmet Davutoglu, and Binali Yildirim between 2009 and 2018. Simsek's expertise and accomplishments have gained international recognition, with him being named the European Finance Minister of the Year by Emerging Markets magazine in 2013, and listed among Foreign Policy magazine's 500 most influential people worldwide in the same year. Simsek has both Turkish and British citizenships.

In 2019, Erdoğan publicly criticized him, accusing him of dishonesty and attempting to defraud Halkbank, signaling a strained relationship with the AKP. However, due to his established international recognition as an economist known for advocating sound economic policies, Erdoğan has now offered him the position of finance minister. As part of his approach, he plans to raise interest rates to a more reasonable level in order to tackle inflation and bolster Turkey's dwindling foreign reserves. Nonetheless, there is a significant likelihood that Erdoğan will attribute Turkey's economic challenges to his orthodox policies and advocate for reducing interest rates again before the local elections in May 2024.

Yasar Guler, Defense Minister: Guler has held various important positions throughout his career in the military. He graduated from the Turkish Military Academy in 1974 as a communication lieutenant. Over the years, Guler achieved promotions, including brigadier general in 2001, major general in 2005, lieutenant general in 2009. After the attempted coup in July 2016, Guler was appointed as the Commander of the Gendarmerie General Command and later assumed the position of Commander of the Turkish Land Forces in August 2017. In July 2018, he was appointed as the Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces.

The replacement of Hulusi Akar, the former Minister of Defense, appears to be a deliberate move rather than a coincidence. The appointment of Guler has significantly reduced Akar's prospects of succeeding Erdoğan. In contrast, Guler is seen as a low-profile and uncharismatic figure, making it unlikely for him to emerge as a prominent political figure. Furthermore, Guler's low-profile intends to ensure that the army will no longer play any significant political role in the near future.


"Syria as a Narco-State" by Mustafa Enes Esen, Institute for Diplomacy and Economy

Approximately 80% of the global production of Captagon takes place within Syria's borders. Based on some conservative estimations, the Assad regime earned $5.7 billion from this illicit trade in 2021 alone. Other estimates suggest that the Assad regime has generated even higher revenues. Due to changes in production and smuggling routes in Syria, the number of Captagon pills seized in Turkey has also rapidly increased recently.

Unfortunately, given the proportion of the income Syria derives from Captagon trafficking to its national economy, it appears unlikely that either sanctions or incentives will solve this problem in the short term. Therefore, Turkey and the regional countries need to confront the reality that Syria has turned into a narco-state and should develop policies accordingly. 

"Post-Election Turkey: More Repression at Home, More Diplomacy in the World" by Hasim Tekines, Institute for Diplomacy and Economy

Erdogan is not the only winner of the elections. Turkish nationalism continues to gain momentum in the Turkish politics. However, it is important to note that nationalism may lead to greater repression within domestic politics. Paradoxically, President Erdogan appears to adopt a more diplomatic approach to foreign policy.

The increased pressure in domestic politics, particularly against the Kurds, is capable of dividing the opposition alliance while easing the transformation of Kurdish political landscape. By further criminalizing the HDP, Erdogan can obstruct CHP’s overtures to the Kurds for the upcoming local elections in 2024. 

The HDP’s poor performance provides Erdogan an opportunity to intensify pressure on the party and other uncompromising Kurdish politicians. Thus, Erdogan is likely to consider seizing control of the remaining HDP municipalities or even closing down and criminalizing HDP. 

As 1980 paved the way for Islamists by crushing the leftist groups in the Turkish political scene, the AKP government aims to shape Kurdish politics through further criminalization of HDP and promoting HudaPar. HudaPar’s alliance with Erdogan and its existence in the Parliament will whitewash its violent past and legitimize it in the eyes of many conservative Kurds. Moreover, they will use wider resources to finance their activities.

In contrast to the prospect of more nationalism and repression at home, the Turkish government will likely pursue a more balanced approach to foreign policy that prioritizes diplomacy. A combination of factors drives this shift in strategy. Firstly, Turkey's economic troubles contribute to the need for a cautious approach. Secondly, Turkey's positive momentum in foreign policy serves as a catalyst for adopting a more measured stance. Lastly, the growing uncertainty in international relations further reinforces Ankara's inclination to act with prudence and deliberation. Together, these factors shape Turkey's evolving approach to foreign affairs.

"Will Turkey Drop Its Objections to Sweden's Accession to NATO?" by Mustafa Enes Esen, Institute for Diplomacy and Economy

The ending of the elections provides Erdogan greater flexibility in his negotiations with Western counterparts. His denial of Sweden was also part of his election campaign strategy to consolidate his nationalist constituency. With the utmost defeat of the opposition, Erdogan has ample room to maneuver and can even present Sweden's accession as a foreign policy success. 

Western countries now have more tools at their disposal to pressure Turkey. If Biden and other Western leaders played hardball to push Erdogan for Sweden's accession before the elections, Erdogan could portray himself as a leader who defies the West, an election strategy that always pays well in Turkey. This is one of the reasons why Western leaders mostly refrained from engaging with Erdogan during Turkey's election campaigning season. After his re-election, pursuing a confrontation with the West will yield fewer benefits but more damage to him.

Despite his unwavering rhetoric, the end of the campaigning season in Turkey opens up possibilities to persuade Erdogan to lift his veto on Sweden's accession. If Western leaders, particularly the Biden administration, negotiate with Erdogan with determination, there is a likelihood that Sweden will be welcomed as the latest member during NATO's Vilnius summit in July.

"Erdogan becomes an era-defining electoral autocrat" by Ishaan Tharoor, The Washington Post

Few statesmen on the world stage have left such a defining imprint on their nations. And few have staved off real electoral challenges with Erdogan's guile and ruthlessness, mobilizing a core bloc of religious and nationalist voters with incessant culture warring, while also leveraging his overwhelming control of the state apparatus in his favor.

Analysts expect the polarizing rhetoric to be sustained as Erdogan faces a complex set of challenges at home, including a cost-of-living crisis and significant public anger over mismanagement of the economy.

Even as Erdogan consolidated his rule under a new centralized presidential system through a controversial referendum, political scholars still saw Turkey as a quasi-democracy. That view is starting to change as Erdogan renews his mandate for power. It's impossible to see the elections as "fair," given the disproportionate resources at Erdogan's disposal, his monopoly over state media and his control over state institutions. And they are increasingly less "free," with the government weaponizing the legal system to throw opposition candidates in jail or disqualify them from competing.

The reality of Erdogan's entrenched electoral autocracy was all the more clear after world leaders — including Modi, Putin, but also President Biden - all congratulated Erdogan on his victory with no mention of any concerns for Turkey's democratic future.

"Erdogan Won by Exploiting Fear" by Gonul Tol, Foreign Policy

Erdogan has used the country's imperfect democracy to establish his one-man rule. Despite all of this, the majority of the Turkish electorate still voted for him. It is fair to conclude that there are millions of people in the country who put partisan interests over democratic concerns in the election on Sunday.

Populist authoritarian strongmen, such as Erdogan, persist in the face of unfavorable odds by exploiting their societies' existential anxieties—even if, paradoxically, the strongman's own policies caused the insecurity in the first place.

Even when they perform poorly, autocrats can still muster majorities by triggering and exploiting people's existential fears. They frame their opponents as incompetent, disorganized, out of touch, and outright dangerous, and appeal to people's primordial desire for stability, security, and order. When people have concerns about their physical and economic security, the "authoritarian reflex" kicks in. Policy preferences and demands for greater freedoms take a back seat to a quest for stability. People rally around the strongman, who casts himself as the savior and promises to provide security at any cost. In the midst of uncertainty, people stick with the devil they know.

At a time of radical uncertainty, many who lost their homes, loved ones, and communities backed an assertive leader who started rebuilding quickly and promised to finish reconstruction in a year rather than take a risk on an unknown entity. Even though these economic difficulties are of Erdogan's making, enough people still trusted him to fix them instead of taking their chances with a leader whose party has not governed the country in decades. 

"How to make the re-election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan less bad news", The Economist

For the next five years Turkey, Europe and the wider world will have to deal with a prickly and authoritarian populist. That is bad news on many fronts: economically, democratically and regionally.

Now that he is safe, Mr. Erdogan may at least consider muting the shrill and divisive politics that marked a campaign in which he accused his opponents of being in league with an international LGBTQ cabal and with the PKK, an armed separatist Kurdish group.

It is possible that Mr. Erdogan may start to listen not just to his opponents, but also to impartial experts and technocrats who were once close to him, especially over his ruinous economic policies. He certainly should. With the election out of the way, he may now feel able to bow to reality and appoint an independent central-bank governor, with a new inflation-busting mandate. If he refuses to change course, disaster beckons. 

The end of campaigning may also allow an improvement in the fraught relations between Turkey and its allies to the west. He can simply assert that Sweden has met Turkey's conditions, drop his veto, and mend a rift with an organisation that is, after all, there to protect Turkey from Russia. In return, the West has some things to offer Turkey. A NATO-related one would be for America to lift the stay that Congress has imposed on the sale to Turkey of new f-16 fighter jets.

If Mr. Erdogan showed that he is interested in a more harmonious relationship, the EU could also do its bit. Turkey's accession to the club as a member is a pipe-dream, but the two sides could make progress on lesser agreements.

"Turkey's opposition licks wounds with eye on next year's local elections" by Andrew Wilks,           Al-Monitor

After a bruising election that saw its hopes of unseating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dashed, Turkey's opposition must now regroup for local polls in less than a year. The defeat now threatens to shake the opposition coalition as it looks to defend gains made by Kilicdaroglu's Republican People's Party (CHP) in the 2019 local elections. 

The harshest spotlight is likely to be on the CHP as the largest opposition party and Kilicdaroglu, who has led the party since 2010 without winning a national election. Kilicdaroglu, however, seems to have little appetite for standing down, having performed better than any of the previous candidates who challenged Erdogan for the Presidency by taking 47.8% of votes. 

If CHP rebels converge in a bid to remove the 74-year-old former bureaucrat, they are likely to focus on Imamoglu as his successor. However, an Imamoglu leadership bid is hampered by a court case that could see him banned from politics should his appeal fail. There are also threats to Aksener, with Ethem Baykal, one of the Iyi Party's founders, calling for her to resign. The party is due to hold its national congress at the end of June. 

The Nation Alliance's smaller parties, which will share 38 parliamentary seats between them after running in the election on the CHP's list, could also be targeted by Erdogan. 


PACE: Elections did not take place in fair conditions

The delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) reported that the presidential election in Turkey was held under unfair conditions, highlighting the use of provocative language during the pre-election period and the clear observation of restrictive measures on freedom of expression.

The PACE, together with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), monitored the election conditions in Turkey and examined the voting and counting processes in various regions of the country.

Sharing its observations on the second round of the Presidential Election, the PACE stated that the media's biased attitude and the ongoing restrictions on freedom of expression created unequal conditions and gave President Erdogan an unfair advantage.

Jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas retires from politics after Erdogan's election win

Selahattin Demirtas, a prominent Kurdish politician imprisoned in Turkey, announced his withdrawal from active politics following President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's electoral triumph. In a tweet, Demirtas expressed regret for the election outcome, which witnessed the defeat of Kilicdaroglu, supported by Kurdish politicians. 

The decision by Demirtas to step away from active politics coincides with a heated public debate regarding Kilicdaroglu's potential resignation in light of his electoral loss. Kilicdaroglu has not hinted at any intention to resign.

Erdogan starts his third term as President

Turkish President Erdogan attended the opening of the parliamentary swearing-in ceremony for the 28th Term of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, where the deputies would serve for the next five years if an early election is not held. 

On June 2nd, members of the new parliament officially commenced their duties by reciting the oath prescribed in the constitution. Can Atalay, who is currently detained in Silivri Prison due to the Gezi trial, was unable to attend the opening of the parliament today, despite being elected as a member of parliament from Hatay.

Erdogan also began his third term as the President of Turkey on June 3 by taking an oath at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who lost the presidential election as the candidate of the Nation Alliance, followed the opening ceremony from the protocol lodge as he is no longer a member of parliament.

MHP urges prosecutors to initiate criminal proceedings against Kilicdaroglu

Feti Yildiz, an Istanbul MP from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), called upon prosecutors to prepare indictments against Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who failed to win the presidential election, based on 28 investigation reports pending at the parliament. 

The charges include insulting, threatening, slandering, praising crimes and criminals, trying to intervene with a fair trial, insulting public officials, inciting hatred, and propaganda of a terrorist organization.  

According to the law, cases that were previously initiated but suspended due to parliamentary immunity can be resumed once the immunity is lifted for the members of parliament.


Lira reaches historic low, stocks rally after presidential runoff 

Turkey's national currency has reached an all-time low, while stocks experienced a rally following Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's re-election victory in a runoff vote. 

However, the country faces significant challenges, including a cost-of-living crisis, a sharp decline in the currency's value, and depleted foreign reserves. The Turkish lira touched a new record low of 20.0845, representing a decline of over 7% since the beginning of the year.

On May 30, the prices of Turkey's sovereign bonds experienced a significant increase of over two cents on the dollar. Subsequently, on May 31, the Turkish lira depreciated to a new historic low against the US dollar.

Morgan Stanley: Turkish Lira Could Depreciate by 29% 

US investment bank Morgan Stanley warned investors that if President Erdogan continues to adhere to a low-interest rate policy, there is a 29% risk of the Turkish lira depreciating against the US dollar. 

In an investor note, Morgan Stanley analysts stated that the USD/TRY could reach 26 lira sooner than expected and approach 28 by the end of the year if there is no change in policy direction. "Turkey's high external financing needs would lead to continuing macro risks. Increased sensitivity to global shocks would be experienced unless there is a change in the current macro policy framework." analysts said.

Newly appointed finance minister focuses on fiscal discipline and price stability

During the handover ceremony, newly appointed finance minister Simsek emphasized on June 4 that the country has no alternative but to return to a "rational stance" to ensure predictability in the economy. He highlighted that their primary objectives would be establishing fiscal discipline and achieving price stability for sustainable high growth.

Analysts suggest that Simsek's appointment as treasury and finance minister may pave the way for future interest rate hikes in the coming months, marking a departure from Erdogan's longstanding policy of reducing rates despite surging inflation.


Sweden's NATO bid is top agenda for Western countries after elections in Turkey

According to an announcement by the Swedish foreign ministry on May 29, the foreign ministers of Sweden and Turkey are set to convene in the coming days to address Stockholm's delayed NATO membership application. 

US President Joe Biden informed the press that during a call on May 29, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan reiterated Turkey's interest in purchasing F-16 fighter jets from the United States. In return, Biden conveyed Washington's expectation for Ankara to withdraw its objection to Sweden's NATO membership.

The discussion occurred when Biden called Erdogan to extend his congratulations on winning the presidential election held on May 28. "We plan to discuss this in more detail at our talks next week," Biden added.

On the other side, on May 30, Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Turkey to take action on Sweden's bid to join NATO and emphasized the need to strengthen the transatlantic alliance amid escalating tensions with Russia. 

While Blinken denied any connection between Sweden's NATO membership and a potential deal with Turkey to sell F-16s and modernization kits for existing jets, he acknowledged that some members of the US Congress had made a direct link, suggesting they would only support the arms deal if Turkey agrees to Sweden's inclusion in NATO.

On May 31, Senator Bob Menendez, who has consistently voiced his opposition to the potential sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, expressed his desire for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to adopt a more cooperative approach towards NATO allies and neighboring countries. Senator Menendez, current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated that he would reconsider his objection to the deal if Erdogan demonstrates a departure from his previous confrontational stance.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced on June 4 that Turkey, Sweden, and Finland are scheduled to hold a meeting for the week of June 12 without providing a specific date. Stoltenberg made this statement after a meeting with Turkish President Erdogan in Istanbul. Stoltenberg also acknowledged that Sweden had taken significant concrete actions to address Turkey's concerns.

Sisi and Erdogan agree to restore diplomatic relations

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Turkish President Erdogan agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and reinstate ambassadors, Egypt's Presidency announced in a press release on May 29. 

President Sisi held a phone call with President Erdogan to convey his congratulations on his recent victory in the presidential election. The two leaders decided to initiate the process of upgrading their diplomatic relations and facilitating the exchange of ambassadors.

Turkey, UAE ratify $40 billion trade deal after the elections

Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have formally ratified a comprehensive cooperation agreement following President Erdogan's presidential victory. This agreement aims to bolster bilateral trade between the two nations and achieve a substantial increase to $40 billion within the next five years.

Thani al-Zeyoudi, the Minister of State for Foreign Trade, announced on Twitter on May 31 that this agreement marks the beginning of a new era between the two countries. He further emphasized that the agreement's implementation will contribute to surpassing the $40 billion mark in bilateral non-oil trade over the designated period.

Turkey to deploy military forces to Kosovo amid escalating tensions

The Turkish defense ministry announced that Turkey is making preparations to deploy commandos to Kosovo on June 4-5 in response to a request from NATO to participate in the alliance's KFOR peacekeeping force.

The ministry issued a statement on June 3 emphasizing the importance of acting with restraint and engaging in constructive dialogue to address the escalating crisis in Kosovo's northern region.

The ongoing political crisis in the area, exacerbated by the appointment of ethnic Albanian mayors in the predominantly Serb-populated region, has prompted strong disapproval from the United States and its allies in Pristina.