Following the sacking of the Central Bank of Turkey’s Governor and the resignation of the Finance Minister, a key name in the political history of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a leading associate of President Erdoğan, Bülent Arınç, resigned from his position on the High Advisory Board.
After the Turkish lira reached a record low, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan removed the country’s Central Bank Governor Murat Uysal from his post by a presidential decree. Uysal’s replacement, which came earlier than expected, was named as former Finance Minister Naci Ağbal.
Turkish interest rates decided by the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank of Turkey had surprised investors when it was raised from 8.25% to 10.25% in September. As the major currencies reached all-time highs against the Turkish Lira, which continues to lose value against all its peers amid the deepening financial and political crisis in Turkey, the country’s foreign currency reserves experienced a sharp drop and the high inflation rate has remained in double digits.
The crisis facing Turkey’s economy led to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s announcement of a new reform process. According to the statements of Erdoğan two weeks ago, the reforms will focus on strengthening the economy and there will be particular emphasis placed on the justice system and human rights. He stated: “We know that one of the most important ways to establish the climate to bloom and fertilize the investments, to grow the economy, to ensure development and stability, is the principle of the rule of law”.
The sacking of the Central Bank’s governor was not the only political outcome following Erdoğan’s reform announcement. Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, who is also known as the “the groom” of Erdoğan, resigned a day later: his Instagram post cited the deterioration of his health as an explanation. Political commentators have suggested that President Erdogan’s decision to replace the Central Bank Governor without Berat Albayrak’s knowledge may have triggered his resignation.
After weeks of speculation about tensions within government circles and amid controversy over Turkey’s upcoming legal reforms, Bülent Arınç, a former speaker of Turkey’s National Assembly and a leading associate of President Erdoğan on his political journey, called last week for the release of Selahattin Demirtaş, a former chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and philanthropist Osman Kavala from prison.
Attending a live programme at Habertürk TV, known to be a pro-governmental channel, on 19 November, Arınç referred to the indictments lodged against Demirtaş and Kavala, expressing his “astonishment” that Kavala is still kept in prison. He also stated: “Demirtaş can be released as well”.
“As the issue of Demirtaş has come up, I would like to say something to the ones who are now listening to us. There is a very nice storybook written by Demirtaş, its name is ‘Devran’. Please, buy and read it. I have read it in this process. You will perhaps not change your views on Demirtaş after reading it, but so much will change in your minds about Kurds and the trauma experienced by Kurds”, he also said.
These words of Arınç, a very old friend of Erdoğan and a member of the Presidential High Advisory Board, were at first perceived by the public as a reflection of Erdogan’s reform programme addressing the economy and law. During his years as the AKP’s Deputy Prime Minister, Arınç has always been a dioristic name in the political agenda in Turkey, for his statements have often provoked debates. Arınç has begun to be more critical of the AKP government since 2015.
These most recent comments of Arınç caused a controversy within the circles of power and were especially disappointing for Erdoğan. Shortly after Arınç’s statements, the AKP Chair and President Erdoğan referred to Arınç without directly using his name. “We observe that there is an attempt to create a fire of sedition [amongst our ranks] with some personal statements that have nothing to do with us”, Erdoğan said.
Referring to Kobanê, Erdoğan added: “It is quite clear where we stand. We cannot connect ourselves with the individuals who are walking with terrorism hand-in-hand. Even if we worked together in the past, no one’s personal opinion can be associated with the President, our government or our party. We can never be together with Kavala, nor can we forget Kobanê”.
The statements of Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the coalition partner of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), soon followed. “It is completely contradictory and even dumb for him to appear on TV and praise Sorosist Osman Kavala and terrorist Demirtas”, Bahçeli said.
These strong statements and the controversies arising from them finally resulted in the resignation of Bülent Arınç. Arınç left the Turkish president’s High Advisory Council. He noted in a statement he posted on Twitter on 24 November: “I won’t stop listening to the voice of my conscience even I have paid a price for it. I will continue the work done in the interest of the country by President Tayyip Erdogan”. Arınç also clarified that he stood by his previous statements, but he was concerned that the reform process could have been derailed had he not decided to resign from the council.