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New Turkey PM: Erdogan's loyal servant and transport czar

AFP , Thursday 19 May 2016
Yildirim
Binali Yildirim, Turkey's current Transportation Minister and founding member of the AKP, Turkey’s governing party, salutes during a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, May 19, 2016. (Photo: AP)
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Turkey's incoming prime minister Binali Yildirim is a longstanding and faithful ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has shown the president unstinting loyalty even before he won the highest office.

The appointment of Yildirim to lead the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and thus lead the government signals a move to a more pliant premiership for Erdogan than was the case under the outgoing Ahmet Davutoglu, who feuded with the Turkish strongman on one too many issues and earlier this month threw in the towel.

Yildirim has worked side-by-side with Erdogan since his widely admired stint as mayor of Istanbul from 1994-1998, moving to federal office after the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) won power in 2002.

As prime minister, Yildirim's main task may not be to devise policy of his own, but rather to implement Erdogan's dream of creating a presidential system in Turkey to enshrine his status as the undisputed number one.

"And now it's time for the presidential system," Yildirim said earlier in May just after Davutoglu resigned.

As a ferry company chief and then as transport minister, Yildirim has for the last two decades worked in the transport sector, an absolutely key area in Turkey which is trying to catch up its lag in infrastructure with vast new projects.

As such, he has been a key lieutenant of Erdogan in implementing what the president likes to call his "crazy" projects to create a "New Turkey", almost always pictured in the press wearing a hard hat and flourescent jacket.

Projects completed so far include new roads, high speed rail lines and most spectacularly of all, the first tunnel under the Bosphorus opened in 2013 which now carries tens of thousands of passengers a day on an undersea rail line.

To be opened in August this year is the third bridge over the Bosphorus, named after the Ottoman Sultan Selim the Grim and which will likely prove a lasting monument to Erdogan's rule.

Under construction is a brand new international airport for Istanbul while on paper is possibly the most ambitious project of all -- a shipping canal that will run parallel with the Bosphorus and take some of the pressure off the clogged waterway.

But in contrast with the sweeping ambition of the projects he has masterminded, Yildirim is softly spoken and almost mumbles his way through speeches.

This will set him apart from Davutoglu who sought to steal some of the limelight from the charismatic president, with populist and sometimes deafening speeches of his own.

The extent of Yildirim's loyalty was shown in 2014 when he agreed to a near mission impossible to stand for mayor in Turkey's third city of Izmir, a bastion of the secular opposition.

With the AKP desperate to show one of its heavyweights could garner support in the Aegean city, Yildirim performed creditably, receiving 36 percent of the vote but still finishing a clear second.

Yildirim, 60, worked as head of the Istanbul ferry company while Erdogan was mayor of the city in the second half of the 1990s.

After the AKP won power, he served an almost unbroken stint from 2002 to 2013 and again from 2015 as transport minister.

According to the columnist for the Hurriyet daily Abdulkadir Selvi, the only serious difference between the two men is that Erdogan supports the Fenerbahce football side and Yildirim their arch Istanbul rivals Galatasaray.

Yildirim has held on to his post as transport minister despite the occasional controversy, notably in 2004 when a new high speed train derailed in the northwest of the country, resulting in the deaths of 41 people.

There was also anger in 2005 when a photo emerged of his wife dining alone while he sat at a table with fellow men, prompting allegations of sexism.

And he also remarked he did not attend the Western-orientated Bosphorus University in Istanbul, saying he was put off by male and female students mixing freely on the campus.

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