Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was sworn into his third presidential term on Saturday, reappointed an internationally respected former banker as finance minister in a sign that his new government might pursue more conventional economic policies.
Erdogan, 69, took the oath of office a week after he won a new five-year term in a runoff presidential race that could stretch his 20-year rule in the key NATO country that straddles Europe and Asia into a quarter-century.
Unveiling the lineup of his new Cabinet, Erdogan announced the reappointment of Mehmet Simsek – a former finance minister and deputy prime minister – to the helm of the economy. Simsek, a former London-based Merrill Lynch banker, returns to the Cabinet as treasury and finance minister after a five-year break from politics.
The appointment comes as Turkey is grappling with a cost-of-living crisis fueled by inflation that peaked at a staggering 85% in October before easing to 44% last month. The Turkish currency has lost more than 10% of its value against the dollar since the start of the year.
Critics blame the turmoil on Erdogan’s policy of lowering interest rates to promote growth, which runs contrary to conventional economic thinking that rates should rise to combat inflation. Simsek’s appointment is seen as an indication that Erdogan may abandon policies that many economists have branded as “unorthodox.”
In other appointments, Erdogan chose as his foreign minister Hakan Fidan, who has headed Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency, MIT, since 2010. A former soldier who holds a doctorate in international relations, Fidan replaces Mevlut Cavusoglu, who had held the post since 2014.
The chief of military staff, Gen. Yasar Guler, meanwhile, will take up the post of defense minister, Erdogan announced.
Earlier, dozens of foreign dignitaries attended Erdogan’s inauguration ceremony at his vast presidential complex in Ankara. They included NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Carl Bildt, a high-profile former Swedish prime minister. Stockholm hopes to press Erdogan to lift his country’s objections to Sweden’s membership in the military alliance — which requires unanimous approval by all allies.
Turkey accuses Sweden of being too soft on Kurdish militants and other groups that Turkey considers to be terrorists. NATO wants to bring Sweden into the alliance by the time allied leaders meet in Lithuania on July 11-12, but Turkey and Hungary have yet to endorse the bid.
Other leaders in attendance included Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, Armenia’s Nikol Pashinyan, Pakistan’s Shahbaz Sharif and Libya’s Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.
The republic will be celebrating its centennial in October, and so presiding over a new “Turkish century” became an important campaign slogan for Erdogan. During his inauguration ceremony, Erdogan hailed “the start of the Turkish century, a new period of glory for our country.”
“I invite all 81 provinces to come together in fraternity. Let us leave behind the resentments of the campaign. Let us find a way to make up for hurt feelings. Let’s all work together to build the Turkish century,” he said.
He also expressed his intention to introduce a new constitution, saying: “We will liberate our democracy from the present constitution produced by (the 1980) military coup, and strengthen it with a freedom-promoting, civilian and inclusive constitution.”
The inauguration ceremony was preceded by a swearing-in ceremony in parliament. Supporters waited outside despite the heavy rain, covering Erdogan’s car with red carnations as he arrived. From there, a procession of cavalry in blue uniforms escorted the president’s convoy to the inauguration ceremony.
Erdogan was sworn in amid a host of other domestic challenges, including pressure for the repatriation of millions of Syrian refugees and the need to rebuild after a devastating earthquake in February that killed 50,000 and leveled entire cities in the south of the country.
In power as prime minister and then as president since 2003, Erdogan is already Turkey’s longest-serving leader. He has solidified his rule through constitutional changes that transformed Turkey’s presidency from a largely ceremonial role to a powerful office.
Critics say his second decade in office was marred by sharp democratic backsliding, including the erosion of institutions such as the media and the judiciary, and the jailing of opponents and critics.
Erdogan defeated opposition challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu in a runoff vote held on May 28, after he narrowly failed to secure an outright victory in a first round of voting on May 14. Kilicdaroglu had promised to put Turkey on a more democratic path and improve relations with the West. International observers deemed the elections to be free but not fair.