Cablegate: Cabinet Shuffles and the Long Squeeze: Pm Erdogan

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

081545Z Jun 05

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 003199


E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/06/2025

(U) Classified by Polcounselor John Kunstadter; reasons: E.O. 12958 1.4 (b,d).

1. (C) Summary: Long rumored to be considering a cabinet re-shuffle, PM Erdogan has made his first move suddenly and in limited fashion. However, more ministers in a cabinet which is still dominated by people loyal to Erdogan's chief internal rival FonMin Gul may be in Erdogan's sights as he tries slowly but surely to whittle down Gul's influence. End summary.

2. (C) In a trademark sudden move, PM Erdogan announced the replacement of three ministers in a mini-Cabinet shuffle June 4. Cabinet changes have been an intense subject of debate and waiting-for-Godot expectation in ruling AKP since Erdogan inherited the Cabinet from his internal arch-rival Abdullah Gul, now FonMin, in March 2003. Yet despite the heavy Gul influence (until this shuffle Erdogan could depend on only four of 22 ministers for internal political support) and despite his overriding popular support, Erdogan long appeared intimidated from making any changes. When Minister of Culture and Tourism Erkan Mumcu resigned in Feb. 2005, Erdogan remained in thrall to Gul for the abortive choice of current State Minister Besir Atalay and eventual choice of Atilla Koc to replace Mumcu.

3. (C) Now Erdogan appears to have overcome his indecision, spurred in part by what Minister of Energy Hilmi Guler told a close contact of ours June 6 is Erdogan's realization of how much damage to his policies Gul and his circle are wreaking. Finally dismissed are three prominent incompetents: Minister of Agriculture Sami Guclu, a barrier to progress on issues of concern to the U.S. and a Gul ally; Minister of Public Works Zeki Ergezen, infamous for his scornful remarks about “infidels” (gavurlar), surrounded by rumors of corruption, unable to finish Erdogan's 15,000 kilometer divided highway project on time, an ally of Minister of the Interior Abdulkadir Aksu, and reportedly close to Gul; and State Minister for Women's Affairs Guldal Aksit, daughter of Galip Demirel, a prominent follower of controversial Islamist sage Fethullah Gulen and a close associate of Aksu.

4. (U) Erdogan appointed as Minister of Agriculture Mehmet Mehdi 1), a Diyarbakir MP from a prominent local family with high status in the Naksibendi brotherhood. Born in Bismil (Diyarbakir province) 1956; graduate of Ankara U. veterinary faculty, MA in agricultural economics from Aberdeen U, PhD from Ankara U.'s health sciences institute. Veterinarian. Worked in upper-mid-level positions in the Agriculture Ministry and as director of veterinary affairs in the Greater Istanbul Municipality when Erdogan was mayor. Married, three children. Speaks English, but we haven't yet tested his level.

5. (C) An AKP xxxxx and two other long-term Embassy contacts with deep relations in AKP describe Eker as a decent but passive man, close to Erdogan. These contacts and Minister of Energy have described in detail how Eker was deeply involved in a plan to remove former Minister Guclu by concealing from him a Russian government note threatening six months ago to suspend imports of Turkish fruits and vegetables for phytosanitary reasons; the ban recently went into effect with Guclu looking ineffectual and uninformed. Embassy Ag Counselor's contacts note that Eker is unlikely to be able to override the Ministry's entrenched, protectionist bureaucracy.

6. (U) The new Minister of Public Works is Trabzon MP Faruk Nafiz 2) (umlaut over the O). Born Trabzon 1946. Civil engineering degree from Karadeniz technical University in Trabzon. Senior civil engineer. Former captain of premier league Trabzonspor football team. Chairman of the board of YAPISUN construction company. Chairman of the board of Trabzonspor. A founder of the Trabzon development Foundation. Married, two children. Reportedly speaks English.

7. (C) A fellow Trabzon contractor and Trabzonspor board member describes Ozak as coming from the Sufi (mystical) line of the Milli Gorus Islamist movement; he is a quiet, reserved, obedient Erdogan man. As part of Erdogan's strategy to use sports to maintain AKP's grassroots support, and in the wake of AKP's defeat in the Trabzon mayoral race in March 2004, the Istanbul-Black Sea axis which forms Erdogan's Istanbul power base reportedly subsequently succeeded in having Ozak appointed Trabzonspor chairman of the board. At the same time Erdogan reportedly agreed to transfer several million dollars from one of the Prime Ministry's hidden reserves to permit Trabzonspor under Ozak to purchase better players. Our contacts expect Ozak to be relatively more upright than Ergezen was (not a high bar).

8. (U) Istanbul Second District MP Nimet 3) is the new State Minister for Women's Affairs. Born Ayranci (Ankara) 1965. Grew up in relatively well-to-do circumstances with a family summer home on Heybeliada, one of the Princes' Islands off Istanbul. Law degree from Istanbul U. law faculty. Worked as an independent attorney, most recently representing the Islamist businessmen's association MUSIAD. A founding member of AKP. Married, one child.

9. (C) Cubukcu is focused, highly ambitious, and months ago made clear to us she sought the state minister position. She has ensured that she stays close to Erdogan's wife Emine, which appears to have been a major factor in her selection, according to what party deputy chairman Saban Disli told us June 7. Her businesslike approach and relative openness in private about problems in AKP brought her to our attention early in AKP's tenure; she participated in Embassy's NATO tour for MPs in Feb. 2004 and in the NDI-sponsored democracy commission trip to Washington in Spring 2005. Responding to the bitter complaints of many women from AKP's grassroots in the northeast Black Sea region who have seen their husbands take Russian and other Black Sea-littoral women as second wives, Cubukcu vigorously argued for criminalization of adultery during a controversy over adultery in autumn 2004. On the other hand, although she talks about her son, she rarely mentions her husband and there are persistent questions among some observers of AKP about her attitude toward her own marriage.

10. (C) With the dismissal of Guclu and these appointments Erdogan has shown more clearly that he intends to whittle down Gul's influence. By dismissing Aksit and Ergezen and appointing Eker, whose family status in Diyarbakir makes him a powerful rival to Interior Minister Aksu, Erdogan has also drawn the noose around Aksu. Aksu has most recently served Erdogan's purposes by dismissing Hanefi Avci, an leading Gulenist who as National Police (TNP) department head for organized crime was starting to push corruption investigations that were leading to the heart of AKP. However, Erdogan has long been troubled by Aksu, whom he suspects of being ready to bolt from AKP with a number of disgruntled MPs. Aksu's Kurdish favoritism, reported ties to the heroin trade, well-known predilection for teenage girls, and his son's open Mafia links make him a weak link in the Cabinet, one Erdogan knows the core institutions of the Turkish State could exploit at any time.

11. (C) Contacts such as Prime Ministry advisor xxxxx who has provided a wealth of accurate insights into AKP, foresee a high possibility that Erdogan will continue to shuffle his cabinet in stages. In addition to Aksu, those who appear to be most in his sights are Minister of Labor Murat Basesgioglu, a former ANAPer who has a poor record of responding to AKP MPs' queries and requests; Minister of Trade and Industry Ali Coskun, who appears to be deeply implicated in a major corruption scandal at the Turkish Standards Institute (TSE) – involving payoffs of $500 million for certifications, according to the TSE director's statement in the June 7 press; and State Minister for Foreign Trade Kursad Tuzmen, a former (ultra-nationalist) MHPer who was implicated in the Iraq oil for food payoffs and is described by multiple contacts as open to every type of kickback.

12. (C) Erdogan may also be aiming over time to remove Gul's close associate State Minister Atalay and Minister of Justice and government spokesman Cemil Cicek, who has not bothered to hide his prime ministerial and presidential ambitions and his disrespect for Erdogan. MOORE

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