14.06.2023 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Hakan Fidan’s possible nomination as vice president – political patronage or part of a secret agreement?

Hakan Fidan’s possible nomination as vice president - political patronage or part of a secret agreement?

On June 1 Turkey’s Supreme Election Council announced Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s victory in the second round of the presidential elections, with 52.18% of the vote, while his rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu received 47.82% of the vote.

Despite the strong feelings and high tensions that prevailed during the run-up to the vote, no serious political misconduct or protests on the part of the opposition were reported after May 28. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu conceded defeat and congratulated his opponent at almost exactly the same time as Erdoğan announced his victory – in the evening of May 28.

As far as Turkey’s internal affairs are concerned, the only unrest as yet has been on the markets – the Turkish lira lost even more value, reaching a new low of 20.12 to the US dollar. Experts see the fall in the Turkish lira as a fairly predictable outcome of the election campaign, during which Erdoğan spent approximately 15% of the country’s gold reserves. What can the state do to refill its coffers?

In the present situation, the government has three options. It can raise money by:

  1. Increasing taxation. But having just fought a close-run election and won with a narrow margin of just 4.36%, Erdoğan cannot risk increasing taxes, as this would probably be a highly unpopular move and could provoke a political crisis in the country.
  2. Issuing more lira – that is printing money and adding it to the amount already in circulation, thus causing an increase in the money supply without a corresponding increase in production. In the present situation such a move by Erdoğan could worsen the crisis, with unpredictable consequences.
  3. Obtaining help from abroad (for example from the IMF), but this would result in a) an increase in the national debt, b) further dependence of the foreign investor (for example, on the USA, which controls the IMF). Would Erdoğan be able to accept that option? And this option depends not only on Erdoğan, but on Washington itself.

Naturally, Erdoğan still hopes for some financial support form his allies in the Turkic world (especially Azerbaijan Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, all rich in resources), as well as the Arab Gulf states (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain), and possibly also China and Russia. However, Erdoğan is a pragmatist, and he is well aware that accepting such assistance from a major power such as China or Russia, both of which have already provided considerable economic assistance and helped out with the election costs, would put Turkey under a further obligation to those countries, limiting its freedom to enter into alliances with other countries, whether regionally or globally. Nevertheless, given Turkey’s current circumstances, Erdoğan will have to do something.

In the meantime, following his election success, Turkey’s reappointed leader will have to focus on making changes to his team. After the elections a number of media outlets chose to film the ageing Turkish leader from unflattering angles, making it clear to the public that he is not in the best of shape. And indeed, it is hardly surprising that he is not looking his best – after all he has worked hard for many years under great pressure without a break, he may well be suffering from age-related health issues, and this year’s catastrophic earthquake and challenging election campaign will naturally have taken their toll both on his physical strength and on his nerves. And it is no secret that all our illnesses have their roots in nervous problems (apart from those caused by our pleasures, or rather our bad habits).

Erdoğan has announced that he will not stand for a third term as president (i.e. in the 2028 elections). But his opponents consider that his candidacy in this year’s elections was unconstitutional, since, according to them, he has already served two terms, having been elected – in 2014, when Turkey was a parliamentary republic, and in 2018, after its transition to a presidential republic. But the government position is that his first term began before and was unrelated to the constitutional amendments that came into effect in 2017, and which established a limit of two presidential terms.

The Turkish president has announced that his main domestic goal will be the adoption of a new version of the Constitution. We all will have to wait and see what amendments he hopes to make to the Constitution, but it is likely that he will try to regulate the relations between the two main branches of power, the president and the parliament. Ageing but still charismatic as he is, he also understands the need to find and nurture a worthy successor who will be able to take over the reins of power and lead Turkey along its future political path.

It is no secret that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s main political allies during his time as president have been the nationalists and pan-Turkists, specifically the Nationalist Movement Party, headed by Devlet Bahçeli. As anyone familiar with the role of political parties in Turkey’s 20th Century history will be aware, the nationalists and Islamists have almost always been in opposition to each other and competed with each other for power, and all too often their radical tactics have created problems for Turkey’s foreign allies.

While, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Mustapha Kemal was forced to agree to the Westernization of Turkey and accept the suppression of Islam’s role in the state, during the Cold War years and the democratization of the Turkey’s political system under the aegis of NATO, Islam started to reemerge as a political force, in various guises (including “soft Islam,” Western-controlled Islam, and Liberal Islam). The Arab oil boom in the mid-1970s, and Iran’s 1979 Shia revolution served as catalysts for the development of a new form of political Islam, or Islamic politics, in many Moslem states in the Middle East. This trend was also felt in Turkey, and the Islamic movement developed in closed Sufi tariqas (or orders) and parties. And while the Pan-Turkists in the second half of the 20th Century were led by a single towering figure, Alparslan Türkeş, right up until his death in 1997, the Islamists had a number of different leaders, including the party leader Necmettin Erbakan, and the religious and political leader Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, who remains the center and main ideologist behind the Islamic renaissance both within Turkey and abroad. Despite their political disagreements and differences, both the nationalists and the Islamists share a common opposition to the ideologies of Liberalism, Communism and Democratism. At the beginning of the 21st century Erdoğan, who had links with the Turkish branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, became the new leader of the political Islam faction in Turkey, coming to power as Prime Minister and then overseeing a transformation of Turkey’s political system, in which the country took a sharp turn towards authoritarianism and became a strong presidential republic.

And in this year’s elections Erdoğan ran as the leader of the Republican Alliance, in a close alliance with nationalists and Islamists (the Justice and Development Party, the Nationalist Movement Party and the New Welfare Party). Both before and during the election campaign Erdoğan’s supporters regularly used anti-American slogans and called for Turkey to assert its independence from the West. Erdoğan, of course, is motivated by a keen desire to remain independent and by the ideal of restoring Turkey’s imperial greatness, and is happy to play for different stakes at different tables. But he also has his fair share of common sense, pragmatism and flexibility, and it is unlikely that in his new term as president he will burn his bridges and isolate himself from the US.

The anti-American rhetoric – much of which came from the lips of Süleyman Soylu, the Minister of the Interior and a prominent pan-Turkist – can best be chalked down to the heat of the campaigning season and was perhaps also (with or without the approval of the Justice and Development Party and the US) as a tactic to secure political power and the position of vice-president – a key route to the presidency given that the vice president will take over should the president fall ill or die in office.

Given the strength of the president, the role of vice president, currently held by Fuat Oktay, is primarily of a technical and executive nature. Fuat Oktay is an economist by training, educated in both Turkey and the US, and previously worked in both countries in the auto construction and communications industries. His career in government began under Binali Yıldırım. But it is unlikely that Erdoğan is considering Fuat Oktay as a possible successor.

In many countries with an authoritarian political culture the security agencies – and the heads of these agencies – play a major role in domestic and international politics, since they control the resources of the security system, as well as information, and have a close network of contacts. In view of the character and nature of Erdoğan’s approach to politics, and the fact that Hakan Fidan has served as director of the National Intelligence Organization since 2010, and Süleyman Soylu has served as Minister of the Interior since 2016, it might seem reasonable that the president may consider one of these two ministers with security service backgrounds as a potential successor. The two ministers are almost the same age – Fidan was born in 1968 and Soylu in 1969. Hulusi Akar, Minister of National Defense, and Yaşar Güler, Chief of the General Staff, are not being considered as potential successors, no doubt because, given Turkey’s history and Erdoğan’s own sorry experience of both successful and failed coups, he has a natural distrust of the army.

It often happens that the Interior Ministry and Security Agencies work against each other, and their heads have different agendas, but in any event, it is clear that in terms of its activities and functions the Interior Ministry cannot compete with the Security Agencies. Significantly, one specific feature of Turkey’s security services and law enforcement systems is the fact that the supreme body is the National Intelligence Organization (MIT). The Interior Ministry, in turn, in addition to the police force and investigation service, also includes the counterintelligence and political investigation departments (including the General Directorate of Security) and the Gendarmerie General Command, a law enforcement body which is also responsible for counterintelligence in areas outside big cities.

Some experts have recently come to the conclusion that President Erdoğan is clearly preparing the director of the National Intelligence Organization, Hakan Fidan, for the post of vice president – in which post he would oversee the activities of both the National Intelligence Organization and the Interior Ministry, apparently in order to create a strong security structure and ensure effective cooperation between the two bodies.

Today Turkey’s Interior Ministry could hardly be described as weak, especially taking into consideration the fact that it incorporates the counterintelligence department and the Gendarmerie. Clearly Erdoğan has either been requested to replace Soylu or put limits on his authority in response to his aggressive anti-American statements, or the president himself has decided to exclude Soylu from his list of potential successors.

The head of the Interior Ministry has more political and party experience than his colleagues in the National Intelligence Organization. Previously he worked for many years in Süleyman Demirel and Tansu Çiller’s True Path Party, heading its youth wing and a regional party office. In 2010 he was expelled from the True Path Party for supporting the Justice and Development Party’s referendum to limit the army’s role in Turkish political life. In 2012 Soylu was invited by Erdoğan to join the executive committee of the Justice and Development Party, and in November 2015 he was appointed Minister of Labor and Social Security, and then became the head of the Justice and Development Party in 2016.

Hakan Fidan, the director of the National Intelligence Organization, has rather less party experience, but has nevertheless had a high-flying career. From 1986-2001 he served in the army as a non-commissioned officer, and from 2003 he joined the executive committee of the Justice and Development Party and headed the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA – a body supporting international development, especially in Turkic countries) till 2007, and then from 2007-2010 he served as secretary of state in the council of ministers, before being appointed as head of the National Intelligence Organization in 2010. His predecessor as head of the National Intelligence Organization was Emre Taner, who did a great deal to ensure Turkey’s security.

Hakan Fidan was a participant in the secret negotiations with the Kurds, held in Oslo, which were organized by Emre Taner. In January-February 2012 the public prosecutor’s office in Istanbul, supported by a regional counterintelligence body, accused Hakan Fidan, Emre Taner and Afet Güneş, a former deputy intelligence officer, of collusion with Kurdish separatists (including the Kurdistan Communities Union, seen as a wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is banned in Turkey). But Erdoğan was quick to halt proceedings on the ground that the talks in Oslo and the actions of the National Intelligence Organization following such talks were conducted by agreement with the head of state, and under Turkish law the public prosecutor and courts cannot question senior intelligence officers without the approval of the head of state (then the prime minister, now the president).

Erdoğan refused to accept Hakan Fidan’s resignation in February 2015 so he could participate in the parliamentary elections, and as a result just one month later he was forced to return as head of the National Intelligence Organization. The Turkish president valued Fidan’s political loyalty very highly, and was grateful for the National Intelligence Organization’s efficiency during the failed coup in 2016.

The above outline of Hakan Fidan’s political career suggests that if he is appointed as vice president then Erdoğan will prepare him to become his successor, reserving the post of head of the Interior Ministry for Süleyman Soylu. Hakan Fidan is well versed in the springs and levers that operate under the surface of the modern Turkish state, and is known for his high level of discipline and ability to keep his mouth closed. The only time when he failed to observe political etiquette was when he gave an interview to a German newspaper in 2015 in which he suggested that it might be expedient for the international community to recognize ISIS (an international terrorist organization that is banned in Russia). The head of the Intelligence Service has a different job from the head of the Foreign Ministry. If the role of the country’s top diplomat is to talk, that of the intelligence chief is to stay silent – his words are for the head of state alone. It appears likely that in November 2015 Erdoğan himself instructed Fidan to make the above comment, in order to test Germany’s – and Europe’s – reactions. Although if you are going to recommend others to do something, you should be prepared to lead by example.

However, if the ageing Erdoğan nominates Hakan Fidan as vice president, it could be more than a gesture of political patronage and the selection of a successor. Such a nomination may also be a condition of a preliminary agreement with certain forces, aimed at preserving Turkey’s independent course.


Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.

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