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Turkey presents new cabinet stacked with Erdogan allies

Turkey's Prime Minister Davutoglu has unveiled his new cabinet, largely composed of loyal allies of President Erdogan. The new government promises to deliver business as usual, much to the relief of investors and the EU.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan approved a new government led by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu three weeks after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won elections. Erdogan had tasked Davutoglu with forming a new government when the AKP regained its majority on November 1.

The cabinet presented by Davutoglu includes several people who have always been close to the president - including his son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, who was appointed energy and natural resources minister. Other Erdogan allies in the cabinet include Mevlut Cavusoglu, who was reappointed to the post of foreign minister, and newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, who had previously served as finance minister.

Binali Yildirim, another Erdogan ally, was named transport minister, but there was no post in the cabinet for former deputy premier Ali Babacan, who had started an ambitious reform agenda in Turkey. Simsek vowed that he would continue to build on Babacan's reforms.

Effects on the economy and Turkey's future

Investors reacted with relief to the appointment of Simsek, who has long been recognized for his pro-market approach. But the appointment, alongside the many other Erdogan backers, was also a clear indication that the president would retain influence over the government - regardless of his constitutional limitations to serve only as a ceremonial head of state.

Erdogan poster

President Erdogan seems to be well aware of the personality cult he has created among his supporters, but can he use the new cabinet to expand his power?

Erdogan hopes to secure enough support for his controversial ambitions to expand his role into a powerful US-style presidency. But the balance of power in Turkey remains fickle: The AKP has regained the parliamentary majority it had previously lost in a first round of elections on June 1, but failed to gain the two-thirds majority needed to make any changes to the constitution, such as introducing an executive presidency, without support from other parties or a public referendum.

Many fear that any such expansion of Erdogan's power could mean a more limited democracy.

Infighting in the AKP

Turkish media reports had also suggested a growing rift between Erdogan and Prime Minister Davutoglu, focusing in particular on the economy.

In another indication that Erdogan put his stamp on the new government, he made sure that Simsek would be promoted to deputy prime minister and given overall control of the economy, making him the most influential politician in the cabinet after Davutoglu - and therefore a noteworthy rival.

The cabinet appointments coincided with a major European Union fund's being officially set up to channel aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey days before a summit at which EU officials hoped to secure Ankara's help in stemming migration. Turkey had asked for 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) to help Turkey host Syrian refugees - three times more than what the cash-strapped EU had initially offered.

Merkel and Erdogan

The refugee aid package to the tune of 3 billion euros was approved during Angela Merkel's visit to Ankara in October

"This money is about providing support to further improve daily lives and socioeconomic conditions of Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey," European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said.

Although the funds are only intended to be rolled out over a long period, with an initial 500 million euros ($532 million) earmarked for 2016 and 2017, the EU signaled that it was keen to finalize a migration deal with Turkey at a special summit to be held on Sunday in Brussels.

The new cabinet was approved just hours after Turkey had shot down a Russian fighter jet, which it said had violated Turkish airspace despite repeated warnings. An extraordinary NATO meeting is underway in Brussels, called at Turkey's request after the incident.

ss/mkg (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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