Turkey’s finance minister resigns amid pressures of sliding economy
By Carlotta Gall
Turkey’s finance minister, Berat Albayrak, the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced his resignation Sunday evening amid escalating fallout over the country’s collapsing economy and plunging currency.
Albayrak said in a personal letter posted on Instagram that he was stepping down for health reasons after five years as finance minister under Erdogan.
His resignation comes a day after the head of Turkey’s central bank was replaced. Critics say disastrous economic policies have plunged the country’s economy into a crisis, with the lira tumbling 30% this year.
Albayrak’s departure may also signal a recalibration by Erdogan in reaction to the election of Joe Biden in Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election. Part of Albayrak’s portfolio was to handle relations with the White House through his friendship with President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.
Albayrak and Kushner had maintained contact via WhatsApp and managed an informal next-generation communication between the two leaders that skirted official protocol and helped earn Albayrak a meeting with Trump in the Oval Office last year.
“I think primarily the driver for his resignation is the collapse of the economy,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “But maybe another reason is that the job has expired.”
Erdogan has managed his growing economic and political difficulties in part through the benefits of his friendship with Trump. The country has so far averted sanctions for buying the Russian S-400 missile system and avoided substantial fines on the Turkish state bank, Halkbank, for its role in violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.
A Biden administration could exercise greater firmness in handling Turkey. And Erdogan — who has yet to congratulate Biden on his victory — may be acting to place Turkey’s economy in steadier hands.
Erdogan has appointed Naci Agbal, a former finance minister who is seen as a loyal but capable manager, to head the central bank. Agbal is known for his opposition to Albayrak’s economic policies over the last two years.
There was no official comment Sunday on whether Erdogan had received or accepted Albayrak’s offer to resign. The powerful Turkish television networks did not carry reports of his resignation.
Social media in Turkey was filled with comments Sunday evening about the development, though, as supporters called on Erdogan not to accept his son-in-law’s resignation and opponents posted videos of traditional dances in celebration.
Albayrak, who is married to Erdogan’s eldest daughter, Esra, has been seen as a potential political heir to Erdogan.
But the tone of the resignation letter indicated heartfelt disappointment on Albayrak’s part, and he mentioned the president only in passing. Albayrak thanked his colleagues, God and the wider Muslim community for allowing him to serve his country, but notably he did not thank Erdogan.
He also made an oblique reference to infighting within the leadership, saying it was hard to differentiate between friends and enemies and right from wrong.
Albayrak, 42, earned a business degree at Pace University in New York and was chief executive of Turkish conglomerate Calik Holdings before becoming a member of Turkey’s parliament. He joined the Cabinet in 2015 as energy minister and was appointed minister of Treasury and Finance in 2018, essentially becoming the country’s economic czar under Erdogan’s newly strengthened presidential system.
But his handling of the economy has been widely criticized as dismal. It has gone hand in hand with Erdogan’s increasing interference in decisions by the Central Bank and in the judiciary, which has undermined the confidence of businesses and investors.
As foreign investment has dried up, rising inflation and unemployment have politically damaged Erdogan, who has long won popularity by delivering a middle-class lifestyle to Turks.
This year Albayrak spent Turkish foreign reserves to shore up the lira, which has fallen to 8.5 to the dollar from 3.5 in 2017. Not only has he been unable to stop the lira’s decline, but on several occasions he made light of the falling exchange rate, saying he was not concerned about the U.S. dollar.
Opposition parties have increasingly been calling for early elections in order to reverse Turkey’s economic decline.
“He will go down in history as an incompetent minister who ruined the Turkish economy,” Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish opposition lawmaker and Turkey program director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, posted on Twitter.
Meral Aksener, one of the leaders of an opposition alliance aligned against Erdogan, challenged the president to accept Albayrak’s resignation.
“Mr. Erdogan you are at a junction,” she wrote in a Twitter post. “Either you choose your nation and do what is necessary, or you choose your son-in-law and you will lose at the first ballot box.”