Freshly empowered Erdogan set to flex muscles as Turkey enters new era

With smaller cabinet and no PM, new presidential system ‘creates a lot of space for a president to act alone and rule the country as one person,’ critics say

Pedestrians walk past a poster of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan under the caption, 'Thank you Istanbul,' at Taksim Square in Istanbul, on June 28, 2018. (AFP Photo/ Bulent Kilic)
Pedestrians walk past a poster of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan under the caption, 'Thank you Istanbul,' at Taksim Square in Istanbul, on June 28, 2018. (AFP Photo/ Bulent Kilic)

ANKARA, Turkey (AFP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be sworn in for a second term with expanded powers Monday, marking a new era as Turkey shifts to a presidential system denounced by opponents as autocratic.

Fresh from his outright victory in June’s presidential elections, and following the scrapping of the office of Prime Minister, Erdogan will take on greater powers than any Turkish politician since World War II, including the capacity to appoint and dismiss ministers.

But Erdogan — who has transformed the NATO member during his one-and-a half-decades of rule — will face significant and immediate challenges posed by a rickety economy and foreign policy tensions with the West.

And while his Islamic-rooted ruling party came out of the simultaneously-held parliamentary elections as the largest faction, it will be reliant for an overall majority on nationalists who may prove awkward bedfellows.

In this file photo taken on June 24, 2018, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech in Istanbul after initial results in Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections. (AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic)

In a tightly-choreographed sequence of events, Erdogan will be sworn in at the parliament on Monday followed by a lavish ceremony at his Ankara presidential palace marking the transition to the new system.

The new cabinet will be announced in the evening.

“He will have a very strong powerful system and I’m sure he will use it,” Ayse Ayata, professor of political science at Middle East Technical University, told AFP.

Scope for one-man rule

The new system was agreed in a contentious 2017 referendum won by Erdogan’s camp but the changes have been bitterly denounced by the opposition.

Erdogan will sit at the top of a vertical power structure marked by a slimmed-down government with 16 ministries instead of 26.

The president and parliament will together be able to choose four members of a key judicial council that appoints and removes personnel in the judiciary.

Erdogan, also leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), will then enjoy control of the executive, judicial and legislative branches, said Emre Erdogan, professor of political science at Istanbul’s Bilgi University.

“Such a system creates a lot of space for a president to act alone and rule the country as one person,” he added.

An LGBT rights activist carries a flag in rainbow colors as a banner under a portrait of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 1, 2018 in Istanbul, after Turkish authorities banned the annual Gay Pride Parade for a fourth year in a row. (AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic)

In a key change, the EU affairs ministry, set up in 2011 to oversee Turkey’s faltering bid to join the bloc, is to be subsumed into the foreign ministry.

No more PM

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim will on Monday go down in history as the 27th and final holder of a post that has existed since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded modern Turkey, and whose origins date back to the Ottoman Empire.

The cabinet is expected to have a different look, with speculation raging over who will be responsible for foreign policy and the economy.

Turkish Prime Minister and head of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Binali Yildirim, center, gestures to a crowd in the Etimesgut district of Ankara, during a “yes” campaign rally ahead of a constitutional referendum on expanding the president’s powers, April 14, 2017. (AFP/ADEM ALTAN

Current Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is an MP and under the new system, lawmakers cannot be ministers.

Cavusoglu could still resign as an MP or Erdogan may choose his spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, or even spy chief Hakan Fidan as the new foreign minister, reports say.

The markets will be closely watching the economic appointments, keen to see a steady hand reining in a fast-growing economy dogged by high inflation and a widening current account deficit.

‘We won’t stop’

Erdogan has savored his electoral triumph after some 52.6 percent of Turkish voters cast their ballots for him in June, higher than the 51.79% in the 2014 polls.

His nearest rival, Muharrem Ince of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) was left trailing on 30.6%, with the party now locked in internal feuding as it seeks a way forward.

But the AKP failed to win a majority in parliament, taking 295 of the 600 seats, meaning it will need its allies in the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and its 49 seats to ensure a majority.

People wave Turkish flags and portraits of modern Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, during a rally organized by the main opposition group, the Republican People’s Party (CHO), on July 24, 2016 in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. (AFP/Gurcan Ozturk)

The MHP’s chief Devlet Bahceli, an enigmatic figure who has led his party since the 1990s, takes a hard line on key issues, advocating an uncompromising foreign policy towards the West and no concessions in the fight against Kurdish separatists.

Ayata said the MHP could end up “in a bargaining situation with AKP. So it isn’t a safe position.”

Erdogan, who has won over a dozen elections, has vowed to listen to the “message” from the parliamentary polls, and vowed no-let up before local elections in March 2019.

“We will not stop because we have come out of the election atmosphere. In fact, it’s the opposite. Since there is a ready election atmosphere, we will prepare for the local elections,” Erdogan told AKP officials, according to the Hurriyet daily.

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