new faces in AKP

Following these elections the AKP will remain Turkey’s dominant political party, forming a single-party government, putting up the parliamentary speaker and holding the presidency. Although it was only set up in 2001 it could thus shape a full decade of Turkish politics.

Prime Minister Erdogan will remain in his current position. Others will change their position. There are also some completely new faces.

Find out more about the post-election leadership of the AKP - the likely new president, Abdullah Gül; the new speaker of the parliament, Köksal Toptan; the likely next foreign minister, Ali Babacan; a new prominent Social-democratic recruit to AKP, Ertuğrul Günay; and one of the rising economic stars of the party, expected to play a leading role in shaping economic policy of the second Erdogan government, Mehmet Şimşek.

Abdullah Gül – The Islamic Calvinist

Abdullah Gül

Announced AKP's presidential candidate on the 13th of August, Gül was elected as Turkey’s 11th president.

Abdullah Gul is from Kayseri – the conservative province in the heartland of Anatolia, the socioeconomic dynamics of which are analyzed in depth by the ESI report "Islamic Calvinists: Change and Conservatism in Central Anatolia".

Gul entered Istanbul University in 1968 - this was a period of ideological polarization and violence in Turkish Universities. Student movements on the right and left clashed until the 1971 coup. Gül was within the Milli Turk Talebe Birligi which had a conservative identity at the time and was confronted by the leftist groups. Upon graduation he went to London with a scholarship from a conservative foundation, to learn English and pursue his doctoral work.

Gul obtained a PhD from Istanbul University and pursued an academic career for 3 years teaching economics at Sakarya University before he moved to Jeddah as an economist at the Islamic Development Bank. He remained in Jeddah between 1983 and 1991. He received an invitation to be a Welfare Party Candidate when he was visiting Kayseri, still living in Jeddah. With the insistence of his friends in the Party, he accepted and was placed at the top of the candidate list.

Gul entered parliament first in 1991 on the Welfare Party ticket. The 90s were a decade of short-lived governments and political infighting. In 1995, although the Welfare Party received the most votes, it was left out of government because the other parties with seats in the Parliament formed a coalition. The government fell within a year and a Welfare Party-DYP coalition was formed in 1996 June.

Gül was Minister of State and Government Spokesman for this government until 1997. The government was forced to resign on the grounds of not executing the new "recommendations" towards preventing the rise of Islamic movements decided on 28 February 1997 by the Military-controlled National Security Council. The Constitutional Court banned the Welfare Party soon after. Called the 28 February process or ‘post´-modern coup’, this incident also included a manipulation of the Turkish media, by the bureaucracy and military, to convince the public that the regime was under threat. This was a defining point in modern Turkish politics.

Gül's third term in Parliament began in 1999 with the Virtue Party, a successor of Welfare. Gül was a leading figure in a new movement that formed within the Virtue Party, demanding a more participatory and rational approach to doing politics. Gül put his candidacy forth against Chairman of Virtue Party Recai Kutan but lost. He and his friends established AKP in August 2001. AKP won the elections with a victory enabling it to be a single party government in November 2002.

Gül served as Prime Minister between November 2002 and March 2003 because the party chairman Tayyip Erdogan was banned from politics. He stepped down when this problem was solved to become Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Under his Ministership Turkey has pursued the EU integration goal consistently and developed relations with neighbors proactively.

There are some, particularly among the supporters of the Kemalist CHP and in the military, who view the fact that Gül's wife is the first first lady having a headscarf as in contradiction to Turkey's secularism. For more on this debate: Sex and Power in Turkey, Islam, and the maturing of Turkish democracy.

Abdullah Gül- Official Website

Köksal Toptan

Köksal Toptan

AKP's nominee Köksal Toptan was elected Speaker of the Turkish Parliament on August 9, 2007 with 450 votes (535 had convened). The Parliament Speaker is one of the three main pillars of the democratic system of Turkey – it is perceived to be a symbolically important post as the Speaker is expected to play a unifying role in the political arena.

Erdoğan decided to nominate Toptan after meeting with AK Party deputies and executives. Surveys were carried out with members of the party's Central Decision and Executive Board (MKYK), asking them their preferences with respect to who they would like to see as parliament speaker. Toptan was backed not only by AKP deputies but also those of the Republican People's Party (CHP), the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the Democratic Society Party (DTP), and some independent deputies. Such consensus has been an absent ingredient in Turkish politics in the last few months of polarization and immediately created an atmosphere of optimism. Toptan's nomination is also considered another sign of the AK Party's shift toward the center right in the party's management after their reorientation for the July 22 elections in which over a hundred previous MPs were replaced by new names.

Confidence in Toptan across the board is due to his track record. Toptan, a graduate of Istanbul University Law Faculty, has been in politics as a parliamentarian since 1977. In 2002, he joined AKP from center-right True Path Party (DYP) – under which he had previously served as both Education Minister and Culture Minister, respectively.

As the head of the Justice Commission of the outgoing parliament, he played a critical role in significant legislative reforms. The Penal Code of 2004 which is analyzed in depth in ESI's "Sex and Power in Turkey" report is one of these, where the process of lawmaking was unprecedented in its participatory nature. It was also considered a breakthrough in terms of women's rights.

Ali Babacan

Ali Babacan

Born in 1967 in Ankara, Babacan entered politics in 2002 as co-founder and Board member of AKP and was elected to parliament as the Deputy of Ankara on November 3, 2002. He was appointed State Minister in charge of the Economy as the youngest member of the cabinet at only 35 years of age. In the cabinet to be established Babacan is expected to be appointed as Foreign Minister, in place of Abdullah Gül who is AKP's candidate for President.

Babacan has a strong educational background. After obtaining a BS degree in Industrial Engineering from Middle East Technical University with the highest marks, he went to the USA on Fulbright Scholarship for postgraduate studies and received a MBA degree from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois in 1992 with majors in marketing, organizational behavior and international business. He then worked in the finance sector for 2 years before returning to Turkey to serve as chief advisor of the mayor of Ankara.

Under the AKP government's first term, Babacan had the duty to steer a painful IMF backed economic reform program which was initiated by Kemal Dervis, Minister of Economy of the previous government. It was under Babacan's term that, coupled with unprecedented political stability, the fruits of this programme were reaped.

Between 2003 and 2006 the average growth rate of the economy was 7.3 percent. The inflation rate, which was 73.4 percent on average for a period between 1991 and 2002, has come down to single-digit levels after tight monetary fiscal policies. Record amounts of foreign direct investment (FDI) have flowed into the country. Turkey attracted a total amount of $34.7 billion between 2003 and 2006.

In May 2005, Babacan was appointed Turkey's chief negotiator in accession talks with the European Union and since October 2005 has been leading the negotiations smoothly.

His hat as Minister in charge of Economy and EU Chief negotiator overlaps in intent as exemplified by his comments at the November 2006 summit of the World Economic Forum: "Foreign investors want to be able to see what's likely to happen in a given market seven or eight years down the road, which they now can in Turkey since the EU accession process means increasing rule of law, human rights, and democracy." He continued, "Now our political stability is seen as a kind of guarantee for the future. Unpredictability in many comparable countries of Latin America, Africa and southeast Asia make this a real point of differentiation for Turkey."

Ertuğrul Günay, Istanbul – the surprise "transfer"

Ertuğrul Günay

Ertuğrul Günay is a prominent Turkish social democrat who was formerly Secretary General of CHP. His having joined AKP reflects Turkey's "schizophrenia" to borrow a word from him. "Our left is our right" he says, "People with low incomes are voting for AKP. Whereas they should be voting for a social democrat party. But the social democrat party has reduced its role to protecting a social lifestyle. From their perspective our only problem is where we are going to be getting alcohol, what we are going to wear, and how might we prevent those Anatolian migrants from walking around Beyoglu dressed the way they are".

Günay was placed second on the list in Istanbul, with Prime Minister Erdogan being the first name on the candidate list from Istanbul 1st district.

Originally from Ordu – a province in the Black Sea region, Günay was elected into Parliament for the first time in 1977, as the youngest CHP parliamentarian. He spent a year in prison after the 1980 coup. In 1992 he became the Party's Secretary General, which by CHP traditions is a seat with significant weight in the Party, almost comparable to the Party Chairman.

Known for his outspoken, principled style, he was eventually expelled from CHP in 2004 after his sustained criticism of Deniz Baykal. He stated he had no intellectual affiliation with CHP anymore. Günay had been in the forefront of efforts to strengthen the left by uniting CHP with DSP. Günay joined AKP just before the elections.

Mehmet Şimşek – A new face in AKP

Mehmet Şimşek

Mehmet Şimşek left his high level job at Merrill Lynch - where he had been working since 2000 - to join AKP ranks as Gaziantep MP.

He was born to a family of 9 children in the Arıca village of Batman in 1967 - to a house with no electricity or water and illiterate parents. Electricity finally came to the village when Turgut Ozal was Prime Minister. Coming from a Kurdish area, he learned Turkish after age 6 - at school - much like many children from villages in the area. His older brother was a teacher sent to Batman center and took his younger brother with him.

From Batman, Şimşek was accepted to the Political Science faculty of Ankara University, where he graduated in Economics. He won a state scholarship to the University of Exeter in England where he obtained a degree in Finance and Investment in 1993. He returned to Turkey and worked briefly for Etibank and then as senior economist for the US Embassy in Ankara for four years. He then moved to New York where he started working as an analyst in the stock exchange department of UBS Bank. He returned to Istanbul for 2 years and worked as senior economist at Bender Securities (a Deutsche Bank subsidiary) before accepting a job offer from Merrill Lynch in London where he rose to be Merrill Lynch emerging Eastern European, Middle Eastern and African (EMEA) chief economist and strategist. Şimşek describes himself as culturally a conservative democrat, economically a radical liberal and politically at the center. His wife is an American. He is likely to take a leading economic portfolio in the next government.

Simsek told the media that he had been impressed by the campaign of the AKP government in Europe soon after the 2002 election, including the effort of numerous presentations given to investors in London. He noted a difference between this team and the style and rhetoric of previous visiting ministers. At a meeting with Prime Minister Erdogan, he stated his view that structural reform needed to be deeper and wider in order to sustain the effort to close the gap with the developed world. The Prime Minister invited him to join AKP. He was placed on the candidate list from Gaziantep, which he describes as not having reached its potential despite being a regional economic center for Southeast Anatolia.

In his words: "Turkey has experienced a democracy test. The people chose to grow with stability. From now on Turkey will go further. Our citizens gave us a large authority as well as responsibility. We will have two core issues. One is to increase the competitiveness of Turkey and the other is to decrease unemployment, because to increase the general welfare we have to create job opportunities. That's why we have to deepen the current reforms. We, as the government, must not abandon fiscal discipline."

Analysis on Turkey's current affairs, in partnership with ESI. Latest issue: Turkey & the EU – Stronger Together?.
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