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Experts: Turkey's President Erdogan to become more entwined in defense buys

April 17, 2017 (Photo Credit: Bulent Kilic/AFP via Getty Images)
ANKARA, Turkey — Turks voted April 16 to endorse sweeping new powers for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, making him head of state, head of government and head of the ruling party — all at the same time.

The referendum, which passed with more than 51 percent of the national vote, will create a powerful presidential office for Erdogan, according to industry and procurement officials. The new powers will allow Erdogan to get more involved with weapons programs. 
 
Under the current constitutional system, the president has a largely symbolic office, should be nonpartisan and does not have executive powers. But the amendments give the president powers to appoint vice presidents, Cabinet ministers, state bureaucrats and senior judges. The president also will have the power to propose budgets and issue government decrees. 
 
“It is out of the question that a president like Erdogan, who has a passion about local weapons programs, does not wish to exercise his new powers in administering the procurement cycle, especially when big programs are concerned,” one senior procurement official said. “He may have been the de facto boss [over procurement], but with the constitutional reforms now passed he will be both de facto and de jure boss.”

Local and Western industry sources agree that Erdogan would now get more involved with defense programs. 
 
“Most ongoing programs, especially ambitious indigenous efforts, are his [Erdogan’s] pet projects,” one Turkish aerospace company source offered. “With new powers, he will wish to give pace to efforts to further nationalize defense systems, present and future.”
 
Erdogan strongly advocates for Turkey’s local industry to end its dependency on foreign systems. Under his rule since 2002, Turkey has launched scores of indigenous programs including helicopters, armored vehicles, naval platforms, drones, a new-generation battle tank and a fighter jet.    
 
Turkey’s procurement office, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, presently administers more than 460 programs worth a combined $35 billion. 
 
The president, after the constitutional amendments take effect, will chair the Defence Industry Executive Committee, the ultimate decision-maker in procurement. Currently the committee is chaired by the prime minister, but the constitutional reform passed in the referendum will abolish the office of prime minister.  
 
“The one-man show in procurement — and other matters at that — in the powerful personality of the president will be further bolstered,” the Turkish aerospace source said.
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