Turkey's central bank governor Murat Cetinkaya speaks during a brief ceremony at which he officially took over from outgoing governor Erdem Basci in Ankara, Turkey, April 19, 2016. Image Credit: Reuters

Ankara: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan unexpectedly removed Murat Cetinkaya as central bank governor, weeks after he was said to refuse an informal request to resign. The decision to oust him risks a market backlash just as policymakers were expected to start interest-rate cuts.

Tension between Cetinkaya, whose four-year term was due to end in 2020, and economy officials deepened after a monetary authority meeting on June 12, when he keep borrowing costs unchanged, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorised to speak publicly about the matter. Deputy Governor Murat Uysal was named as a replacement, according to a presidential decree in Saturday’s Official Gazette.

A spokesperson for the Treasury and Finance Ministry didn’t answer calls. Text messages and phone calls to officials who work at the president’s office went unanswered.

The shock ouster could reignite investors’ concern about the central bank’s independence, and may derail a rally in the lira that started at the beginning of May. The decision comes days after Turkey’s real rate soared to a world topping 8.3 per cent as inflation slowed by more than expected, giving policymakers room to start an easing cycle. The next policy decision is scheduled for July 25.

“Ironically Uysal’s hiring likely makes it more difficult for the CBRT to cut rates as the risk now is that the market reacts badly to this HR change at the central bank,” Timothy Ash, a strategist at BlueBay Asset Management in London, said in an email.

With the central bank on hold for months, authorities have instead relied on fiscal stimulus to ride out Turkey’s first recession in a decade. Still, industrial production fell for the first time this year in April, which raises the risks of a double-dip recession. The government wants to kick-start growth by lowering interest rates.

Global Pressure

The president has chastised the central bank frequently for keeping borrowing costs elevated. Last month, he complained that while the US Federal Reserve is moving closer to lowering interest rates, “the policy rate in my country is 24 per cent, this is unacceptable.”

His decision to remove Cetinkaya underscores the pressure placed on central bank governors worldwide, including the US Fed Chairman Jerome Powell is frequently criticised by President Donald Trump, who as recently as Friday said the regulator is “our most difficult problem.”

Agustin Carstens, the general manager of the Bank for International Settlements, said in late June that Turkey is an example of what happens when politicians meddle with monetary policy. Central banks need to “persevere” in following their goals and not to be swayed by short-term political goals of decision-makers in government, he said.

Erdogan is using the powers granted to his office after last year’s general election, which transformed the political system into an executive presidency. The first batch of presidential decrees issued under the new rules last July included a change that allowed Erdogan to name central bank governors — an appointment that previously required the support of the cabinet.

Uysal, deputy governor since June 2016, said he would continue to implement monetary policy independently, in line with his mandate and authority. Uysal will hold a press conference in the coming days, according to a statement on the central bank’s website.

Credibility issue

Cetinkaya, appointed governor in April 2016, was criticised for acting too slowly to tighten monetary policy during a currency rout in August. He then showed resolve in the face of market turmoil, increasing the benchmark interest rate by 625 basis points in September and holding it ever since.

Despite winning praise for delaying monetary easing, Cetinkaya also came under fire about the lack of transparency over recent volatility in the bank’s reserves, prompting concerns that the monetary authority was using its assets to prop up the lira before municipal elections earlier this year.

Uysal’s appointment also drew criticism from former central bank officials, who said laws that guarantee the regulator’s independence also make it impossible for the executive branch to remove the governor unless he is involved in prohibited activities, such as holding shares in a commercial lender.

“Removing the central bank’s governor in this manner will deal a big blow to its institutional structure, capacity and independence,” Ibrahim Turhan, a former deputy central bank governor, said on Twitter.