One of the peculiar aspects of last year’s referendum, which introduced an executive presidency in Turkey, was that Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım had been trying to convince the public that his post was unnecessary for proper administration of the country.
Actually, that was the idea behind him becoming prime minister under strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu resigned from the post after contradicting the president on certain policies, while Erdoğan had been working to establish one-man rule in the country.
After Davutoğlu’s resignation, a Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy and former Erdoğan speechwriter, Aydın Ünal, wrote in May 2016 that a prime minister working with the president should have a low profile.
Soon enough, then-Minister of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communication Binali Yıldırım emerged as a suitable candidate. He had been in the same position since 2002, working with Erdoğan since 1994, and unlike Davutoğlu, was known for his submissiveness.
As a minister he had controlled highways, airways, sea routes and the Internet. He was not so interested in the latter, though. When access to YouTube was prohibited by a court decision in 2008, Yıldırım offered to launch a “native” video-sharing platform as an alternative. He also accused YouTube of tax evasion.
His biggest scandal was exposed in 2004, when a high-speed train that was introduced by his ministry with great fanfare crashed near Pamukova, killing 41 people. Public outrage sparked demands for his resignation, but he refused, even protecting the bureaucrats who were responsible for the disaster.
Yıldırım was also a central figure in a bribery and corruption scandal unearthed by a police investigation in 2013, after which the AKP started a war against Fethullah Gülen and his movement, accusing them of toppling elected, legitimate authorities by illegal means.
According to the investigation, Erdoğan allegedly tasked Yıldırım with pursuing businessmen to finance the pro-government media, especially the Sabah-ATV media group. Since then, the pro-government media has been called the “pool” (havuz in Turkish), indicating the pooling of capital from businessmen.
The official investigation, however, was closed, although its political ramifications are still being felt today. The police officers, prosecutors and judges who had conducted the probe were fired and subsequently detained.
In 2014, Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu officially asked in parliament about Yıldırım’s family businesses, which include 17 companies and a fleet of 30 commercial ships.
According to the Paradise Papers, a joint effort of journalists that has exposed tax havens for politicians and businessmen based on 13.4 million documents, Prime Minister Yıldırım’s family, including his sons, uncle and a nephew, owned 11 offshore companies.
He is a sympathetic politician, though, and even Erdoğan sensed his charm, nominating him for an unsuccessful bid for mayor of İzmir.
As the 27th and last prime minister of the Turkish Republic, Binali Yıldırım has occupied the post for two years, a post once held by İsmet İnönü, a war hero from the founding era; Adnan Menderes, who was executed by hanging after a military coup; Süleyman Demirel, a legend of right-wing politics; Bülent Ecevit, a poet and a gentleman; Turgut Özal, a visionary; and Necmettin Erbakan, the founding father of Islamic politics in Turkey.
Only one woman, Tansu Çiller has managed to become prime minister in the history of modern Turkey.