ANKARA, Turkey — Most of Turkey’s top priority, indigenous programs are being dragged into further delays and uncertainties as the country prepares for parliamentary elections the second time in half a year
"The [procurement] bureaucracy is at a standstill. Hence, most of the indigenous programs," said one senior procurement official. "There are many unknowns: Who will run the programs after November, and how?"
Turkey’s June 7 elections deprived the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of its parliamentary majority for the first time in 13 years.
Several rounds of coalition talks between the AKP and opposition parties since then have failed to form a government and parliament decided to renew elections on Nov. 1.
An interim election government, led by AKP’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, will take the country to polls. In August, Davutoglu appointed AKP’s Vecdi Gonul, a former defense minister, as interim defense minister (also in charge of procurement).
Various public opinion polls have found that the Nov. 1 elections would likely produce the same inconclusive results. That would mean new rounds of coalition negotiations between the AKP and the opposition parties and, although unlikely, possibly but not altogether impossible, a new election.
"It is highly unlikely that the interim government announces critical decisions on major programs. Defense procurement is not anyone’s priority at the moment," said one senior government official.
Decisions that will likely wait for until there is a new, non-interim government, he said, include multibillion-dollar programs like the long-range air and anti-missile defense system, the indigenous fighter jet, helicopter and new generation main battle tank programs, as well as various naval systems.
Another critical program that faces uncertainties is an ambition to design, develop and produce an indigenous regional jet with dual civilian and military use. Turkey has chosen selected two Dornier models on which to build the planned system. If the program goes ahead, it could generate up to $1.5 billion in business, industry sources say.
"Some of these programs require selecting foreign partners and that will require political deliberations which, then, requires a stable, powerful government," the government official said.
"Turkey is in a political deadlock and I don’t expect the current picture to change substantially," a Western political observer said. "It is typical of the Turkish political system that inconclusive polls halt bureaucracy."
Procurement sources said some in their own bureaucracy may decide to run for parliament. In the June 7 elections, for instance, one deputy undersecretary at the procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), Faruk Ozlu, was elected to parliament on the AKP ticket.
"We don’t know whether the boss [SSM Undersecretary Ismail Demir] will remain in office. We don’t know who will be the new defense minister. We don’t know who will be in SSM’s top management and who will they appoint as directors in charge of major programs," said one SSM official.
Moreover, the Western observer said, it is not certain whether the AKP will maintain control of the Defense Ministry in its control in case it signs a coalition deal with an opposition party.
"It is quite possible that the future coalition partner may bargain to take over the Defense Ministry and succeed," he said. "That will mean a major reshuffling at the procurement bureaucracy and new men running the programs."
The country’s top procurement panel, the Defense Industry Executive Committee, remains inactive amid political turmoil. The panel is chaired by the prime minister. Its other members are the defense minister, SSM’s chief and the chief of the military General Staff. SSM officials said they don’t expect the committee to convene for any major decisions soon.
But a foreign arms dealer said: "This will be a temporary pause due to politics. Most of those programs will take a pace as soon as there is a government and no elections are in sight."