Turkey's Prime Minister and presidential candidate Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to hold onto power — including defense procurement — if elected next month. (Ozan Kose / AFP)
ANKARA — Major actors in Turkish politics will be reshuffled in the next few months, but defense and political analysts say Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “almost one-man show” in procurement matters will likely remain.
Erdogan, Turkey’s most powerful politician and unchallenged leader since 2002, said on July 1 that he would step down and run for the presidency in a two-round election on Aug. 10 and 24.
It will be the first time for the Turks to elect their president by popular vote, and any candidate would need at least 50 percent of the national vote to win in the first round. The better of two best-performing rivals would be elected regardless of what percentage they receive in the second round.
Erdogan is widely expected to win. In local elections March 30, his party won with 43.3 percent of the national vote. The closest opposition party received 26 percent.
In contrast with the post of prime minister, the presidency has until now been largely a ceremonial post. But if Erdogan wins, it is likely to become more powerful. He already has said he would push for an executive-style presidency.
Erdogan would likely maximize the office’s existing powers while controlling the government, possibly to be run by one of his political allies. An Erdogan aide said a likely candidate for prime minister is outgoing President Abdullah Gul, a longtime ally of Erdogan.
“There will probably be a prime minister and a party chairman, or one man holding both titles until Gul gets elected to Parliament next year,” the aide said. “In either case, Erdogan will consolidate both of the ceremonial and executive powers.”
Gul, a former prime minister, must wait for parliamentary elections in June 2015 to become the next prime minister to complete a job swap with Erdogan akin to the one performed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
“If Erdogan is elected, Turkey will have a strong president without a formal presidential system,” Ibrahim Kalin, a top Erdogan adviser, wrote in a July 1 newspaper column. “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.”
Erdogan already has signaled that.
“Mine will be a different type of presidency,” he said. Rather than stick to diplomatic functions, he promised to be a president who “sweats, runs around and works hard.”
In a July 8 speech, Erdogan said “every matter in the country, including infrastructure or other projects, would be the president’s job.”
Analysts say it would not matter much who the prime minister would be as long as the all-powerful Erdogan runs the show at the Presidential Palace in Ankara.
“He will be the official president and the de facto prime minister,” an Ankara-based analyst said. “He already has personalized power in his own hands. He will be controlling public investment, social policy, foreign policy, education and defense procurement although none of this is the president’s job under the current constitution.”
Another Erdogan aide said the new prime minister, in coordination with the next president, may wish to reshuffle the Cabinet or replace some ministers including, theoretically, the defense minister.
“All options are open now except one: I cannot imagine a reshuffle or Cabinet change without Erdogan’s approval,” the aide said.
He said Erdogan’s April pick as the chief procurement official would likely remain.
“The man is new on the job and has Erdogan’s approval. I don’t [believe] Erdogan would think of a new man to run the procurement office in a few months time,” the aide said.
In April, Erdogan’s government appointed Ismail Demir, a professor of aviation and former CEO of THY Teknik, Turkey’s national carrier THY’s maintenance subsidiary.
A senior official from the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), now headed by Demir, said that as long as Erdogan remained the powerful leader, president or prime minister, he would have the last say in major procurement decisions.
“In the past, he as the prime minister convened the procurement bureaucracy to decide on major programs,” the official said. “As president he may convene the prime minister and the procurement bureaucracy for the same.”
Top procurement decisions in Turkey are made by a panel, the Defense Industry Executive committee, chaired by the prime minister. Its other members are the defense minister, chief of the military general staff and the SSM undersecretary.
The political turbulence can sideline decisions on major Turkish programs, and some projects may be dragged into a period of silence, officials and analysts say.
For instance, recently, for a fourth time since last September, procurement authorities extended a deadline for all three bidders in a disputed air defense contract to submit their renewed proposals, a move officials and analysts linked to presidential elections.
US and European bidders have been trying to snatch the contract from their Chinese rival, which Turkey selected in September in its first program to build a long-range air and anti-missile defense system.
The bidders for the air defense contract comprise a partnership of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, makers of the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 system, and the European group Eurosam, maker of the Aster 30 missile.
In September, Turkey selected China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp. (CPMIEC) to build the country’s first long-range air and anti-missile defense system. CPMIEC’s bid was priced at $3.44 billion.
Turkey has been in contract negotiations with CPMIEC but, under increasing pressure from its NATO allies, it also has urged rival US and European bidders to improve their offers. ■