Who is Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s finance minister?

The coming weeks will show how well Turkey's finance minister can turn around the country's struggling economy.

Berat Albayrak addresses the audience at a symposium on the 17th foundation anniversary of the ruling AKP in Ankara

 

Since the start of Turkey’s currency crisis, Berat Albayrak, the country’s 40-year-old finance minister, has emerged as a central figure whose words are closely monitored by global markets.

However, his turn in the international spotlight has left many wondering whether Albayrak, nicknamed “the Groom” after he married into President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s family, is capable of turning around the country’s struggling economy and imposing the remedies demanded by international investors.

Albayrak was appointed as treasury and finance minister by his father-in-law in July. He previously served as energy minister from 2015 shortly after becoming an MP for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

In perhaps his most high-profile appearance since entering public life, last Friday he addressed journalists and bankers on his plans for a new Turkish economic model.

By many accounts, the speech he gave as he repeatedly mopped sweat from his brow fell short of expectations in its lack of detail on new targets for growth, spending and the large current account deficit.

Instead, it gave a philosophical guideline for the Turkish economy without providing any concrete steps, observers say.

“It was very disappointing,” said Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets sovereign strategist at BlueBay Asset Management.

“Albayrak’s been in office for a month. There was not really any detail … we wanted fine detail, we wanted really specific information as to how Albayrak is going to deliver on these targets.”

Talking to broadcaster TRT World, he added: “There was just no detail in terms of what is actually going to be delivered in terms of the specifics to reduce the budget deficit.”

To compound the situation, President Donald Trump sent a tweet announcing the doubling of US tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium as Albayrak spoke in Istanbul, sending the lira into a tailspin. The currency hit one of several record lows that would come over the following days.

Speaking at a vital address on Thursday afternoon, this time to the foreign investors on which Turkey is reliant, Albayrak hopes to convince them he is the man to trust with the $880bn economy.

Family ties

The minister has close family ties to Erdogan that pre-date his marriage to the eldest Erdogan daughter. His father Sadik, a former journalist and MP for the now-defunct Islamic-leaning Welfare Party, is a longstanding friend of Erdogan.

It is partially these links that have raised doubts about the minister’s suitability at the helm of Turkey’s troubled economy.

Previous economic chiefs such as Mehmet Simsek and Ali Babacan were largely seen as figures trusted by the markets to steer Turkey along orthodox economic lines.

However, Albayrak is viewed as the president’s protege and as being unlikely to challenge Erdogan’s stern opposition to raising interest rates – a move seen by most economists as essential to tackling high inflation and an overheating economy.

Like his father-in-law, he has repeatedly said that Turkey is the target of foreign plots to undermine its economy.

His appointment as economy tsar in Erdogan’s new presidential system last month saw the lira drop more than three percent against the dollar and the following day Turkish stocks and bonds fell in an indication of market unease.

However, others were not so critical of Albayrak. Can Selcuki, a partner at Istanbul Economics Research, described last week’s presentation as “a good one”.

“The things that he presented are economically acceptable arguments that are all good and nice from a normative perspective,” Selcuki said.

“Nobody can object to them but the timing of the presentation came when it seemed the market wanted something more concrete,” he added.

Albayrak was born in Istanbul in 1978. Like Erdogan, his family originally migrated from the Black Sea region, although in the Albayrak family’s case it was from Trabzon, the province adjacent to Erdogan’s native Rize.

Little mention is made in official accounts of his early life but he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Istanbul University before studying for a business master’s at New York’s Pace University. He later completed a PhD in finance at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, going on to lecture at Marmara University.

He married Esra Erdogan in 2004 at a ceremony attended by a number of world leaders. The couple has three children.

Two years later, in a surprisingly rapid rise, Albayrak was appointed chief executive of Calik Holding, a private conglomerate with close links to the government, at the age of 29.

After standing down from Calik in late 2013 he took up writing on economic issues for pro-government newspapers, in which he often called for interest rates to be raised.

‘Right-hand man’

His appointment to the government less than two years later raised eyebrows in Ankara with rumours circulating that then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was opposed to the plan.

The announcement came on the same day the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian warplane over the Syrian border, leading to a serious fall-out with Moscow.

As the dispute deepened, Russia launched a personal attack on Erdogan, making unsubstantiated claims that his close circle, including Albayrak, were involved in trading oil with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).

During his time heading the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry, Albayrak gained a reputation for encroaching on the territory of other ministers and emerged as his father-in-law’s right-hand man – a role that has upset some senior AKP figures.

Earlier this month, TV cameras caught the moment when Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu appeared to shoulder barge Albayrak following a ceremony in Ankara in a sign of deep animosity between the two cabinet heavyweights. Both men later shook hands in a display of public reconciliation.

However, the coming weeks will see whether Albayrak is able to as easily appease the global markets looking with increasing concern at the signals coming from Erdogan’s palace and his son-in-law’s briefing notes.

Source :

aljazeera

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