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Binali Yildirim: Who Is The Man Slated To Be Turkey's Next Prime Minister?

Turkish Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim is set to take over the reins of the ruling AKP party, but how much power will he actually have.

On May 19, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) elected Transportation and Communications Minister Binali Yildirim as the candidate for the party's chairmanship.

Traditionally, those who chair Turkey's majority political parties in parliament are also elected as prime minister to head the government.

In this position, Yildirim will replace outgoing Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who resigned as both party chairman and prime minister earlier this month.

Yildirim graduated from the Ship Building and Maritime Sciences Department of Istanbul's Technical University and later gained experience working in Scandinavian countries.

More recently, he switched to Istanbul's sea-transportation sector where he burnished his reputation by improving the megacity's sea lines.

Yildirim has been a "close friend" of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the last 22 years, since the time when the latter was mayor of Greater Istanbul. He was also one of the founders of the AKP, which Erdogan established in 2001.

Yildirim was appointed transportation minister after the AKP won an absolute majority in the 2002 general election. He has presided over a dozen transportation projects, including a new bridge on the Bosphorus. A fatal train derailment in 2004, however, prompted opposition calls for him to resign.

Yildirim and his brother-in-law were also named in connection with an infamous bribery scandal in December 2013, when some prosecutors went rogue and opened cases against a number of AKP officials and their relatives.

After surviving this scandal, the government saw to it that the troublesome prosecutors were themselves arrested and the legal proceedings they initiated were halted. Erdogan and the AKP called the scandal a "plot" by a "parallel state" led by the exiled cleric Fathullah Gulen, who now lives in the United States.

The 'Man Of Millions'

Calling Yildirim "the man of millions (of dollars)," the head of the social democratic opposition, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, accused Yildirim in 2014 of doling out government tenders to raise finances for the AKP.

According to Kilicdaroglu, Yildirm was involved in the sale of a prominent TV station and newspaper that raised $630 million. Prosecutors later claimed that this money was illegally collected with a view to using it illicitly for projects managed by the ruling party and its leaders.

Erdogan and his government rejected those allegations.

Binali Yıldırım (left) with his "close friend" Recep Tayyip Erdogan (center) and outgoing Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Binali Yıldırım (left) with his "close friend" Recep Tayyip Erdogan (center) and outgoing Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Yildirim will be the second prime minister in the "de facto" presidential system that was introduced in Turkey in 2012.

In recent years Erdogan has been advocating an "executive presidential system," which would do away with the need for a prime minister and provide the president with far greater powers.

Such a move would require a two-thirds majority in a national referendum. Although the AKP has persistently won 50 percent of the votes or more in national elections, this level of support would still not be enough to push through the constitutional amendments that would allow the system of government to be changed.

Nonetheless, in the face of increasing public opposition to the plan, Erdogan has introduced a de facto presidential system in which he decides upon all the important matters of government and the prime minister basically implements his decisions.

In effect, this means that, like his predecessor Davutoglu, Yildirim also won't actually have a big say in the Turkish government. Instead, Erdogan will still be the main man, who will take all important decisions and who will be responsible for running the country.

About This Blog

Turkey Notebook is a blog written by Abbas Djavadi, regional director of programming at RFE/RL and a longtime Turkey specialist. The blog presents Djavadi’s personal take on events and is designed for Turkey-watchers and all who want to get the most relevant news, views, issues, and insights on the country that you might not find in the daily news stream. Also check out Turkey Notebook on Facebook or Twitter.