Binali Yildirim

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Prime Minister of Turkey

Notable Quotes

“The embargo (on Gaza) is being lifted under Turkey’s leadership. To this end, our first ship loaded with over 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid will leave for Israel’s Ashdod port on Friday” (6-28-16)

“Our most important foreign-policy goal is to increase the number of friends. There is no reason for us to quarrel with Iraq, Syria, Egypt; with the countries of this region.”

"An incident (the shooting down by Turkey of a Russian plane on 11-24-15 that Turkey claimed violated its airspace) happened with Russia. We of course won’t allow the violation of our right to sovereignty. However, it’s not right to stick to a single incident. We need to look at the bigger picture. There is no animosity between our peoples. It’s possible to return to the old days and even take it further."

Early Years and Education

You were born in 1955 in the city of Refahiye in northeast Turkey. Your undergraduate and master’s degrees in Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering come from İstanbul Technical University's School of Maritime, and you did post-graduate studies in the same fields at the World Maritime University in Sweden, an institution affiliated with the United Nations. You worked for many years with the General Directorate of the Turkish Shipping Industry, but your political career effectively began in 1994, when you took over as the head of the İDO Istanbul Fast Ferries Company, which oversaw the operation of the many car and passenger ferries that the government operates in and around Istanbul. It happened that the mayor of Istanbul at that time was a man named Tayyip Erdogan, someone who would become your patron and political mentor.

Public Life

When Erdogan moved to start the Justice and Development (AKP) Party in 2001, a party that aspired to be both Islamist and democratic, you left your position with the IDO and joined him, winning election to parliament in 2002 for the first of three terms. You served as Erdogan’s Minister of Transport for five years and later served two terms in the newly-created position of Minister of Transport, Maritime and Communication, starting in 2011. You made your biggest public splash when the fact that the Communications portfolio was added to your portfolio put you in the position of heading a controversial and steadily growing program of government censorship. Turkey’s government is seen by many as being extraordinarily sensitive to criticism, coming down hard on public expression of all kinds thought to be “inappropriate for Turkish families.” In response to the frequent criticism of Turkey’s harsh civil rights policies, you were quoted as saying that, “(i)f you are not up to anything illegal, don't worry about surveillance.” It should be noted that Turkey’s restrictive policies on free expression have been consistently cited by the European Union as being a primary area in which Turkish policy will need to change, if Turkey ever wants to qualify for EU membership.

In the eyes of Mr. Erdogan and AKP Party leadership, you developed a reputation over these years as a “can do” person, and you were seen as the prime mover behind both the rapid development of Turkey’s high-speed rail system, and the expansion of Turkey’s network of highways.

How You Became Prime Minister

You were made the official head of the AKP Party in May 2016, and given that your party was in control of the parliament and led the governing coalition, this move automatically made you the Prime Minister. Had this happened a few years earlier, this ascension would have made you the effective head of state, but much has happened of late that make it clear to all that your becoming Prime Minister is likely to shepherd in an era when the job of being Prime Minister becomes a far less powerful position. Let us explain…. Turkey’s political system has both a President and a Prime Minister, but since the constitutional revision of 1960-61, the President’s role has been largely ceremonial, while the prime minister was the true head of state. This division of power reflected a parliamentary system, in which the head of the governing party or coalition became prime minister. Technically, the President had the power to rule by decree, but as a practical matter, no President attempted to exercise this power (which was regarded as a kind of fail safe for Turkey’s historically strong military, allowing it an avenue within the political system to take control, should it feel the need to do so). However, when your friend and political patron Tayyip Erdogan ended his 11-year tenure as Prime Minister in 2014, he already had his eye on a refashioning of the Turkish system that would feature a strong President, who would be (in his vision) a true head of state, and not just head of the governing party. This initiative, not surprisingly, coincided with Erodgan’s election as President in 2014.

Although your predecessor as Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, was certainly a strong supporter of Mr. Erdogan, he was regarded by Erdogan as being a little too independent, and perhaps not sufficiently bought in to the idea of overseeing the reduction in power of his own position, and of shifting from a parliamentary system to a presidential one. Fully leveraging his political power, Mr. Erdogan was finally able to push Davutoglu aside in May 2016, and engineer your selection as Prime Minister. It is said that many in your party would like to see the state headed by a strong leader with robust Islamist credentials, and no one subscribes more strongly to this idea than the man seen by many to fit the description perfectly, Mr. Erdogan. Indeed, it is something of an open secret that, since he was elected president, Erdogan has been largely ignoring the law that says that the president must break ties with any political parties, and serve as a “impartial” head of state.

Issues of Concern

Certainly your first priority will be to support Mr. Erdogan’s agenda of having a public referendum that would change Turkey’s government from a parliamentary to a presidential system. Doing this will certainly require a major effort to manage the domestic politics, an enterprise in which you will play a key role. You will also need to manage some of the broader consequences of this effort, though, chiefly to work to shore up investor confidence in the Turkish economy. As you took office, you were faced with a weak and falling lira, a result of investor uncertainty that many attribute to the impact of Mr. Erdogan’s plans on Turkey’s long-term stability (or the perception of same). You will also be at the forefront of an effort to strip legislators of their immunity from being sued, which would allow opposition party members to be sued and potentially removed from office for purported ties to the outlawed Kurdish separatist PKK Party. Of course you will also be a key actor in any future negotiations related to Turkey’s potential membership in the European Union, an enterprise which has had a tempestuous history, as well as the future of the agreement that Turkey reached with the EU on Syrian refugees, one in which Turks would potentially be allowed visa-free travel within the EU in exchange for Turkey agreeing to clamp down on the smuggling of refugees, and to take in refugees whose applications for asylum in Greece are rejected. This visa-free travel agreement is contingent on changes in Turkey’s civil rights policies, however, changes that the Erdogan government has resisted making.

You are also taking office at a time when Turkey’s regional relationships are in flux. Turkey and Russia were at loggerheads over Russian jets engaged in supporting the Asad regime in Syria supposedly crossing over into Turkish airspace, with at least one Russian jet being shot down by Turkey. The two nations maintain diplomatic relations, but Russia implemented a number of economic sanctions, and ended visa-free travel to Russia for Turkish citizens. Indeed, one of the first actions taken by your government was to issue an apology to the Russians for the downing of their jet, an action that reduced geopolitical tensions between your nations, and brought an end to the economic and tourism sanctions that had been having a big effect. It is also speculated that, because of Russia's powerful position in Syria, moving closer to Russia will gain Turkey greater influence.

At the same time, Turkey finds itself in a more harmonious relationship with Saudi Arabia and Egypt regarding Syria, as the interests of the three nations, and their desire to support the moderate Sunni opposition in Syria, are in alignment. Finally, relations between Turkey and Israel have taken a dramatic turn for the better. Israel sees Iran as THE geopolitical threat in the region, while Turkey sees Iran as a strategic rival...this is one key basis for a bond between your two nations. In the weeks after your ascension to the Prime Minister's position, you signed an agreement with Israel re-establishing full diplomatic relations, relations which had been downgraded for five years. As a part of this deal, Israel agreed to set up a $20 million compensation fund for families who lost loved ones in the 2010 ship incident, and Turkey will end all claims against the Israeli government as the two nations begin talks on jointly building a natural gas pipeline. Turkey, which had been diplomatically isolated in the region, is now seeing brighter prospects in the offing, and you appear to be taking office at an auspicious time.

Role Playing Notes

You are regarded as a technocrat who, as mentioned previously, has a reputation for getting things done. By technocrat, we mean that (as an engineer) you possess significant technical and managerial expertise, and that your approach was guided more by a problem-solving orientation than by your political affiliations or ambitions. In contrast with Mr. Erdogan, you are thought to be remarkably free of ego; for you it is more about the work than it is about you. Even though your primary mission could be seen as making your own job less politically significant, you are not a shrinking violet, and you will be strong and visible in support of the policies of your party and, most importantly, of President Erdogan. You have not only benefitted professionally from your association with Tayyip Erdogan, but personally as well, as you are a very wealthy man who owns several ships and shipping companies. It must also be added that you have been accused of financial improprieties, including trading influence for financial donations to the AKP, but you’ve not been convicted of breaking any laws.

Upon taking your position as Prime Minister, you said that “(o)ur way is that of the people’s voice and breath, our party’s leader Tayyip Erdogan’s way. My honorable president, we swear that your passion is our passion, your cause is our cause, your path is our path.” As you take the Prime Minister's post, your career is now fully and publicly associated with Tayyip Erdogan, and as his fortunes rise and fall, so will yours. You are Tayyip's man. It remains to be seen what this strong association with President Erdogan will mean in light of his July 2016 decision to impose a state of emergency in Turkey, in the wake of an attempted military coup that your government put down. Will you be the Prime Minister of a nation reasserting its democratic nature, or will you be the nominal head of an effective dictatorship?


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