Cabinet changes spark hope for peace ahead of elections
New ministers seen as supportive of reforms, negotiations to end conflict with PKK.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 31/01/13
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's long-awaited cabinet reshuffle could facilitate reforms and progress on the Kurdish issue ahead of an election cycle due to begin next year, analysts told SES Türkiye.
Muammer Guler, who was recently appointed interior minister in a cabinet shake-up, addresses parliament. [AFP]
As part of the shakeup, longtime Erdogan advisor Omer Celik was appointed minister for culture and tourism, while AKP Edirne deputy Mehmet Muezzinoglu became health minister. Conservative intellectual and Erdogan confidante Nabi Avci was made education minister.
In what has been seen as the most significant change, Mardin deputy Muammer Guler replaced Idris Naim Sahin as interior minister. Sahin had frequently made headlines for statements seen as provocative and nationalistic, while Guler, who was born in the southeast, is considered more moderate on the Kurdish issue.
"It's widely believed that the prime minister wanted to bring new dynamism into the domestic front and made the changes bringing his most trusted people into the cabinet, keeping in mind the need for reforms ahead of the upcoming elections," Ali Carkoglu, professor of political science at Koc University, told SES Türkiye.
The changes, Carkoglu added, "were likely also planned to refresh the political mood in the country and give positive signals to society ahead of the next wave of debates over constitutional reforms."
The move generated hope for progress in the ongoing talks between the government and PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.
Cenap Cakmak, professor of international relations at Osmangazi University in Eskisehir, said the government "wants to send the message that they are indeed sincere in this endeavor."
"[Sahin] was known as a hardliner, though his service did not go unnoticed. During his term, the administration demonstrated its determination to deal with terror. Now they want to make a strong statement that they could actually be committed to the peace process," Cakmak told SES Türkiye.
After serving as Istanbul governor, Guler headed the Public Order and Security Inspectorate of the Interior Ministry, a body that was founded as part of the government's Kurdish initiative in 2010.
Some analysts questioned if the cabinet changes themselves will lead to significant changes or progress on the Kurdish issue.
"I don't believe that these changes in the cabinet have anything to do with so called Kurdish reforms," Umit Ozdag, the chairman of the 21st Century Turkey Institute, an Istanbul-based think-tank, told SES Türkiye.
"The former interior minister, like others, did not resist Erdogan's politics," he said, characterising the government as "authoritarian." He added: "The new interior minister is from Mardin, but a member of the entrenched establishment."
Speaking to SES Türkiye, AKP Nigde deputy Fatih Unal dismissed the criticism.
He said the changes are "quite normal processes, and never sacrifice anyone to state policy. The prime minister has a right to change the team whenever he thinks it's necessary."
Unal added that the government is committed to ending "terrorism" and will go forward with the talks.