November 3, 2015 / 2:11 PM / 2 years ago

'New Turkey' to bear Erdogan's stamp as crackdown on dissent steps up

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan smiles as he leaves from Eyup Sultan mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, November 2, 2015. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s new cabinet will bear the firm stamp of President Tayyip Erdogan with a slew of loyal advisors set for ministerial posts, senior officials said on Tuesday, suggesting his grip will tighten as the AK Party returns to govern alone.

The AKP’s dramatic electoral comeback on Sunday, clawing back a majority lost only five months earlier, was a personal victory for Erdogan, whose ambition for stronger presidential powers rests on the party he founded controlling parliament.

Opponents fear the result, which dashed any hopes of a coalition government that might soothe deep social divisions, will exacerbate his authoritarian instincts. There are already signs that a crackdown on dissent is intensifying.

Authorities detained dozens of people, including senior police officers and bureaucrats, on Tuesday on suspicion of links to Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric Erdogan accuses of plotting to overthrow him with bogus corruption accusations.

The offices of a left-leaning news magazine were raided over a cover suggesting the election result could trigger conflict.

And security forces backed by helicopters imposed a curfew in parts of a town in the largely Kurdish southeast, while Turkish jets pounded Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, suggesting no let-up in a military campaign there.

“It has been a key element of politics since Machiavelli, the ability to manipulate fear. But Mr. Tayyip has proved to be a real master,” wrote Ali Sirmen, a columnist in the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper.

Officials in Ankara said the new cabinet, likely to be announced late next week at the earliest, would include several top Erdogan advisors, although Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was likely to keep control of the economic team.

“Not everybody close to Erdogan can be in the cabinet because there aren’t enough ministries,” said one senior AKP official, but added those who were would take key posts.

“We’ll see an important part of his advisors and those who work with him in the next cabinet,” the official said.

They would be drawn from the so-called “shadow cabinet”, a coterie of powerful advisors he established to maintain sway when he won Turkey’s first popular presidential election in August 2014 after more than a decade as prime minister.

Those tipped for cabinet posts include staunch ally and former transport minister Binali Yildirim, former interior minister Efkan Ala, former justice minister Bekir Bozdag and former customs minister Nurettin Canikli, two officials said.

Former energy minister Taner Yildiz was also likely to make a return to his old job.

FORGING THE “NEW TURKEY”

Sunday’s poll deepened Turkey’s polarization, with the 50 percent who did not vote AKP in shock: from liberal secularists suspicious of Erdogan’s Islamist ideals to left-leaning Kurds who blame him for the resurgent violence in the southeast.

Erdogan cast it as a vote for stability after months of uncertainty following an inconclusive election in June, and as a mandate to press ahead in forging what he has called a “new Turkey” growing in economic and international clout.

Financial markets initially staged a sharp relief rally, although it petered out on Tuesday as minds turned to longer-term concerns about structural reforms and who would be in charge of the new government’s economic team.

AKP officials said Davutoglu, who as party leader has struggled to emerge from Erdogan’s shadow, was determined to keep Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek and former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, who largely have the confidence of foreign investors, in key posts.

“We all know Erdogan’s style ... but it is not right to expect Erdogan’s choice on every post,” said one senior party official close to Davutoglu.

“I‘m sure Davutoglu will be insistent on keeping some successful names. Holding on to Babacan and Simsek is one of his priorities, because they send a positive message.”

In their first decade in power, Erdogan and the AKP built their reputation largely on growing Turkey’s wealth, overseeing a sharp rise in incomes and providing new roads, hospitals and airports across a country long seen as an economic backwater.

But as that growth story slows, Erdogan has increasingly resorted to economic populism, casting bankers and foreign investors as living off the fat of the land.

Erdogan has lobbied for interest rate cuts despite rising inflation, equating high borrowing costs with treason. His weeks of stinging criticism of the central bank earlier this year for failing to slash rates, unnerved financial markets and sent the lira to record lows.

Rumors of division in the AKP, a monolithic organization that has dominated Turkish politics since sweeping to power in 2002, have long been rife. But party officials have always insisted that while the combative Erdogan and academic Davutoglu may differ in style, they are united in vision.

As Turkey enters what could be a second decade of AKP rule after Sunday’s vote left the opposition in disarray, there appears little doubt as to who will be shaping its direction.

“The only question up for discussion here is whether the victory points will go to Mr Tayyip or to Davutoglu,” wrote Cumhuriyet’s Sirmen. “Everything we’ve seen until now suggests Mr Tayyip’s dominant personality will always prevail.”

Additional reporting by Seyhmus Cakan in Diyarbakir, Ece Toksabay in Ankara, Daren Butler and Melih Aslan in Istanbul; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Peter Graff

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