Arms deals: Erdoğan to remain the strongman

Arms deals: Erdoğan to remain the strongman

Burak Bekdil ANKARA
Arms deals: Erdoğan to remain the strongman


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s pledge to become a “running, sweating president” if he wins the election next month will most likely include controlling Turkey’s multi-billion dollar defense contracts and programs, officials and defense analysts agree.

One senior defense bureaucrat in Erdoğan’s office said the prime minister viewed several defense programs as “his pet projects” and would be keen to follow on their future progress. 

“It would be totally unrealistic to expect him to review these programs at a traditional president’s distance with the procurement bureaucracy,” the official said. “He will be almost directly involved.”

Erdoğan is widely expected to win the presidential race either on its first round on Aug. 10 or on the second on Aug. 24. A defense procurement official said regardless of how in the post-Erdoğan period the government shapes itself “President” Erdoğan will behave like he still chairs the powerful Defense Industry Executive Committee, which oversees major procurement decisions. 

The committee’s other members are the defense minister, chief of the military general staff and the chief procurement official.

“He views most weapons programs as his signature projects. He has signaled that he would not have a different perspective [on defense procurement] once he has been elected president,” the official said. “I don’t think any program can proceed without his approval.”

In a campaign speech last week, Erdoğan reiterated his dedication to an ambitious goal to make Turkey’s one of the world’s top 10 manufacturers of weapons systems. And in a July 8 speech, Erdoğan said “every matter in the country, including infrastructure or other projects, would be the president’s job.”

A western company executive said most defense industry players would continue to view Erdoğan as “the de facto procurement boss” no matter who becomes the prime minister or the party leader.

“We think Erdoğan’s choice of a new undersecretary for defense procurement was a calculated move … that shows he would continue to run the show even after he gets elected to presidency,” he said.

In April, Erdoğan’s government appointed İsmail Demir, an aviation expert, as new head of the procurement office, the Undersecretary for Defense Industries (SSM). Before the appointment Demir, was CEO for THY Teknik, Turkey’s national carrier THY’s repairs and maintenance subsidiary. Demir is widely viewed as a bureaucrat close to another Erdoğan confidant, former Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım.

In contrast with the post of prime minister, the presidency has until now been largely a ceremonial post. But if Erdoğan wins, it is likely to become vastly more powerful. Erdoğan already has said he would push for an executive-style presidency.

“If Erdoğan is elected, Turkey will have a strong president without a formal presidential system,” İbrahim Kalın, a top adviser to Erdoğan, wrote in a newspaper column July 1. “The current Constitution does not allow for a full-blown presidential system. But the powers of the president make it a hybrid system. This needs to be understood properly.”