Yıldırım as an executor of Erdoğan’s projects
Unlike the general belief in the Turkish media, Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım, who has been named by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) as the only candidate for the snap congress on May 22 for the chairmanship – and thus to become the new prime minister – has not been among the “yes men” in the close circuit around President Tayyip Erdoğan. On the contrary, he is among the very few left around Erdoğan who can still make an objection on issues that he is not fully convinced upon, which doesn’t make Yıldırım a decision-maker, but more a perfect adviser or colleague.
As a ship-building engineer, his political career started as the sea transportation director for Erdoğan in the mid-1990s when Erdoğan was elected as the mayor of Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest city and with a population that exceeds that of many countries in Europe. He became the transportation and communications minister after the AK Parti won elections in 2002, except for the cabinet of outgoing PM Ahmet Davutoğlu in 2014-15.
The transportation projects under his auspices, such as the divided roads, speed trains (despite the still uncompleted Ankara-Istanbul line), the boost in the performance of Turkish Airlines with new airports in remote parts of the country and the metro systems in city centers, have been winning extra votes for Erdoğan in almost all elections. The mega projects like the railway tunnel under the Bosphorus, the third bridge over the Bosphorus, the third airport in Istanbul and one of longest suspension bridges in the world across İzmit Bay are projects which Erdoğan keeps promoting in almost every other speech. Yıldırım has been in close contact with business circles, especially the big construction and telecommunications companies because of those projects, and his areas of responsibility which put him at the target of accusations (which could not be proven and were later dropped) during graft probes in late 2013 as the coordinator of a “pool” to transfer funds to pro-government media. Erdoğan blamed his former ally Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamic ideologue, of trying to overthrow his government because of accusations including those.
It was Yıldırım, as a loyal and reliable colleague who was put forward by Erdoğan to balance his successor (whom he also hand-picked), Ahmet Davutoğlu, for the AK Parti executive committee. When the “necessity” occurred, as Davutoğlu put it, it was that party committee which forced Davutoğlu to step down by showing their lack of trust in his decisions. On May 19, while announcing Yıldırım’s name, Ömer Çelik, the AK Parti spokesman, said there was “not a millimeter of difference between the president and the party.” Yıldırım, during his speech of gratitude, made it clear that the leader of the party was still Erdoğan even though it would be him who will most probably be elected as the chairman on Sunday.
Because of the close relations between Erdoğan and Yıldırım, and given that Yıldırım is a contributor to Erdoğan’s decisions, it would not be hundred percent correct to say that Erdoğan will make the decisions and Yıldırım will implement them. It would be more correct to say that Erdoğan will be the originator of all the decisions from now and that Yıldırım will continue to be the executor of all the projects – ones that will now go far beyond the scope of transportation and communications.
The fact that his first vow was to “bring an end to terrorism” is a message for example that it is not likely to expect serious changes in security policies, like foreign policy. But being a man of projects, Yıldırım may change the direction of the economic policies, which would mean a few changes in the cabinet and higher bureaucracy as well.
The move is definitely another and an important step toward Erdoğan’s target of concentrating the executive power in the presidency.