Erdogan replaces Turkish trade minister, more cabinet moves expected

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gives a statement after a meeting in Ankara
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gives a statement after a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, April 5, 2021. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Handout via REUTERS

April 21, 2021

By Orhan Coskun and Ezgi Erkoyun

ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan named a prominent member of Turkey’s ruling AK Party, Mehmet Mus, as trade minister on Wednesday and split another ministry into two, in what officials said was the first move in an expected broader cabinet shuffle.

In a presidential decree Ruhsar Pekcan, the cabinet’s highest-profile woman, was replaced as trade minister by Mus, who is close to former finance minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, a divisive party figure.

The decree, published in the Official Gazette, gave no reason for the change, but it comes after opposition politicians accused Pekcan’s ministry of buying supplies from her family-owned company and called on her to resign.

The Trade Ministry confirmed a purchase of sanitisers had been made, but said in a statement on Tuesday the choice was based on price alone and not due to “the name of the company making the sale”.

It said the sale, worth some 500,000 lira ($62,000), had been carried out in line with relevant regulations.

Erdogan’s overnight changes come amid speculation over a wider cabinet reshuffle, after he changed the country’s top economic management in November, including the central bank governor.

A senior government official told Reuters that further changes to four or five ministries are expected after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ends mid-May.

“There was generally a cabinet reshuffle expectation and that is still valid. But Pekcan’s sanitisers incident was not acceptable,” the official said, adding Erdogan will make the final decision on any further changes.

ALBAYRAK ALLIES

Mus, an AK Party member since 2011 who was deputy chairman in charge of the economy, was among the first to defend Albayrak’s record and call for him to remain in office when Albayrak abruptly resigned as finance minister in November.

A rapid turnover in the last two months at powerful state and financial institutions have left other Albayrak allies in top spots, including Salim Arda Ermut, the new chief executive at Turkey Wealth Fund.

Foreign investors pulled back from Turkey due to unorthodox policies under Albayrak’s watch, including the sale of some $128 billion in foreign currency via state banks in 2019 and 2020 that badly depleted the central bank’s reserves.

“Mus was close to Albayrak,” said a person close to the AK Party who also requested anonymity.

“The cabinet reshuffle expectation did not end with this move. The president is sorting out the timing,” the person added.

According to the decree, Erdogan also established two new ministries by splitting the Family, Labour and Social Policies Ministry into two separate ministries.

He appointed Derya Yanik as Family and Social Policies Minister and Vedat Bilgin as Labour and Social Security Minister, replacing Zehra Zumrut Selcuk.

($1 = 8.1122 liras)

(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Dominic Evans and Bernadette Baum)