Through a 2017 referendum, Turkey switched to a presidential system. Erdoğan used to say about the former system that “the president holds the sticks, but the drum is owned by someone else.” He aimed for a system where the president made decisions and took action by him or herself. He was partially able to achieve that. He is certainly the strongman; however, two other figures are emerging as competitive post-Erdoğan actors.
Unlike in the parliamentary system, in the presidential system, the ministers are not elected — they are appointed by the president. Most of the ministers on President Erdoğan’s team are technocrats. The Minister of Education, for example, owns a private school; the Minister of Health is a doctor who owns a private hospital. The Minister of Tourism owns a tourism agency. Ministers always underline that they are acting under the orders of the president. They act as advisors rather than political decision makers.
Two ministers, however, differ from the others. One is Minister of the Treasury Berat Albayrak, the son-in-law of President Erdoğan. The other is Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu: he used to be the chairman of the Democrat Party, but he then joined forces with Erdoğan and secured his ministerial position. These are the two names for those who want to follow Turkish politics. Albayrak and Soylu don’t act like technocrats under the president; they take decisions they announce their own positions.
Both want to be under the spotlight; both want to be in control. Berat Albayrak is the face of the Turkish economy: he promises a bright future for Turkish economy, or at least, this is what he claims. Recently, Turkey discovered some gas reserves in the Black Sea. It wasn’t the Energy Minister who announced the find, but Mr. Albayrak. He obviously has the backing of President Erdoğan. He has one disadvantage, though: he is not favored by the Turkish public. Polls show he is one of the most-hated figures in Turkish politics, with an approval rate of around 5 percent. However, he has the backing of the pro-government media; one of the biggest media companies is owned by his family. It seems he has the backing of social media too.
Süleyman Soylu is favored more by the people, especially by the nationalistic voter base. He portrays himself as a tough guy who can be relentless at times. He holds the interests of the state above anything else. A couple of days after Berat Albayrak announced Turkey’s new gas reserves, Soylu was pictured on an earth digger after the flooding in northern Turkey.
While Albayrak looks like the man of the palace with the backing of his father-in-law, Soylu gives the image of being a man of the people. Albayrak directs the AKP elites; Soylu speaks to the laymen.
The rivalry between two ministers is visible. Last year, Turkish Fox TV cameras took a video of the two bumping their shoulders in a hostile manner when passing each other by.
So one thing to watch in Turkish politics, other than Erdoğan’s maneuvers, are these two ministers. Both seem to be grooming themselves for the post-Erdoğan period as strong political figures.