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Former finance minister wanted autonomy to work with Erdoğan: opposition politician

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mehmet Simsek

In this file photo, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) drives a golf buggy with then-Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek (L) before attending a bilateral meeting with then South African President Jacob Zuma (not pictured) prior to the G20 Summit on November 14, 2015 in Antalya. KAYHAN OZER / POOL / AFP

An opposition lawmaker has claimed that a former finance minister who refused to rejoin President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party and economy team had set as a precondition freedom from any kind of political intervention and appointing economy staff himself.

Former deputy prime minister and finance minister Mehmet Şimşek announced on Monday his rejection of an offer from President Erdoğan to rejoin his party and take the helm of his economy team, saying he wants to stay out of politics.

Şimşek, a former Merrill Lynch London economist and strategist, served in parliament between 2007 and 2018 from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). He was not nominated by the party in the general election of 2018.

Turhan Çömez, an advisor to opposition İYİ (Good) Party leader Meral Akşener, said Şimşek had a meeting with a high-level AKP executive in Ankara several months ago during which they discussed the prospects his rejoining the party. Çömez said Şimşek wanted no intervention in the management of the country’s economy from Erdoğan and wanted to appoint the economy staff himself if he was to rejoin the party and take the helm of the economy.

İYİ Party politician Turhan Çömez

The opposition politician said Şimşek’s preconditions were not relayed to Erdoğan by the AKP executive who met with him and others familiar with it who feared an angry reaction from Erdoğan.

Çömez said Erdoğan met with Şimşek without knowing about his preconditions and had his offer rejected.

He announced on Twitter that he had a cordial meeting with Erdoğan at AKP headquarters in Ankara but does not plan to enter active politics due to his work with financial organizations abroad, although he did say he’s ready to offer his help to Erdoğan’s government in his area of expertise.

Şimşek’s refusal to join Erdoğan has come yet as another blow to the president, who is desperately seeking new allies ahead of what many say the most challenging election in his career.

Turkey will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14. Erdoğan, who was first elected to the presidency in 2014, is seeking re-election at a time when opinion surveys show him lagging behind Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the presidential candidate of an opposition bloc of six parties.

Erdoğan promotes a controversial economic model that is based on low interest rates and appoints chairpersons to the country’s central bank as well as the finance ministry who also act in line with his economic model and against the raising of interest rates.

Turkey has seen the appointment of several finance ministers and central bank governors over the past several years due to disagreements over monetary policy with Erdoğan. Turkey’s central bank is independent, according to the law, but its independence has undergone significant erosion due to political meddling.

Erdoğan has pressured the bank to reduce interest rates despite skyrocketing inflation, which exceeded 85 percent last year.

Leader of the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) Ali Babacan

Meanwhile, Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) leader Ali Babacan, who served as deputy prime minister responsible for the economy in previous AKP governments, said a reasonable person like Şimşek would not accept a post in the AKP government.

Babacan said although being a minister might seem attractive to some, it does not mean much under an Erdoğan government because Erdoğan does not allow ministers to set their own policies and always meddles in their work.

“He has replaced so many ministers just because they did not comply with his orders. He also has replaced a lot of central bank governors,” Babacan said on Wednesday during an interview on the Ankara Masası YouTube channel.

Babacan also said Şimşek had told him how he suffered at the hands of Erdoğan’s interventions.

The former AKP politician parted ways with the party due to a series of disagreements and established his own party in 2020.

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