Turkey's opposition accused scandal-hit Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday of trying to rule via a secretive “deep state” after a cabinet reshuffle that would tighten controls on police already beleaguered by government-ordered purges.
Among 10 new loyalist ministers Erdogan named late on Wednesday was Efkan Ala, a former governor of the restive Diyarbakir province who will now wield the powerful Interior portfolio and oversee Turkish domestic security.
Ala replaces Muammer Guler, one of three cabinet members who resigned after their sons were detained in a graft probe that erupted on Dec. 17. Guler, who like Erdogan had called the case baseless and a plot, sacked or reassigned dozens of police officers involved including the chief of the force in Istanbul.
“He [Erdogan] is trying to put together a cabinet that will not show any opposition to him. In this context, Efkan Ala has a key role,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of the biggest opposition party CHP, said in remarks carried by Turkish media.
“Erdogan has a deep state, [his] AK Party has a deep state and Efkan Ala is one of the elements of that deep state,” added Kilicdaroglu, using a term that for Turks denotes a shadowy power structure unhindered by democratic checks and balances.
During his three terms in office, the Islamist-rooted Erdogan has transformed Turkey, cutting back its once-dominant secularist military and overseeing rapid economic expansion. He weathered unprecedented anti-government protests that swept major cities in mid-2013.
But his response to the corruption case drew an EU call for the independence of Turkey's judiciary to be safeguarded. It has rattled stocks and the lira, with the currency falling to a historic low of 2.1035 against the dollar on Thursday before recovering a little.
“The dismissal of half an entire cabinet is worrying enough. The corruption probe is escalating by the day, causing a further deterioration in market sentiment towards Turkey,” said Nicholas Spiro, head of Spiro Sovereign Strategy.
At an Interior Ministry handover ceremony, Ala said Turkey might have been targeted by neighbors jealous of its successes.
“When these developments are sustainable, attacks from various centers on the political stability of the country is not unexpected,” he said, without elaborating.
For Erdogan, the scandal is potent and personal.
It lays bare his rivalry with Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Turkish cleric whose Hizmet (Service) movement claims at least a million faithful including senior police officers and judges.
Another of the three cabinet members who quit on Wednesday over their sons' detention, Environment Minister Erdogan Bayraktar, broke ranks by urging the premier to follow suit.
The Turkish leader, in power for 11 years and facing local elections in March and a national ballot in 2015, was unmoved. Vowing no tolerance for corruption, he said on Wednesday the graft investigation had been tainted by foreign interests.
“It would not be incorrect to say that, with this (Ala) appointment, Erdogan has personally taken the reins of domestic affairs,” Sedat Ergin, a columnist with the mass-circulation newspaper Hurriyet, told CNN Turk television.
Unlike the rest of the 20-member cabinet, Ala is not a lawmaker and thus does not answer directly to a constituency.
In his previous post as undersecretary of the prime ministry, political sources told Reuters, he urged a crackdown on demonstrators who flooded the streets over the summer in protest at what they see as Erdogan's authoritarianism.
“Who would you trust other than your undersecretary, with whom you have been working closely for years?” said one government source, who characterized the new ministers as “surprise” picks conveying Erdogan's desire for fresh faces.
Akin Unver, assistant professor of international relations at Istanbul's Kadir Has University, said Ala showed restraint as governor of Diyarbakir, which is populated predominantly by ethnic Kurds whose ties with Ankara have often been troubled.
“He was actually someone who warned against the excessive use of police force,” Unver said. “My worry is that anywhere in the world, when you get closer to power, you can malfunction.”