New presidential palace is a storm in a teacup

Published 20.11.2014 01:35

For a long time, the presidential palace was a source of great embarrassment for Turkish leaders. The building that houses presidents was simply a scandal when Süleyman Demirel became president in 1993 and could not even find a decent office to work in. So Demirel ordered the building of a new facility that would house the presidential offices and its support units. But in time that facility also became obsolete. Under President Ahmet Necdet Sezer nothing was done to improve the situation, and when Abdullah Gül became president he set out to renovate the presidential palace and its other facilities in Ankara and Istanbul, spending billions of Turkish lira. But that too proved to be useless as it was hard to turn a donkey into a horse, even if you paint it and give it a facelift. Gül could not find a decent place to live in, so he opted to stay at the residence allocated to the Foreign Minister until his term ended earlier this year. So there was always a dire need to build a new presidential palace, and even a residence for the president.

Even under the old conditions, where the president was elected by Parliament, the functions of the president were limited compared to the president elected by the people, like Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Even then, the offices and support units were seriously insufficient. Once it was known that the president would be elected by the people, and thus he would have an enhanced political and administrative role, it was clear that a massive new building was needed.

Erdoğan started off building the new complex for the prime minister but it was clear that he had the presidency in his mind, and once he was elected, he made no secret that the grand buildings he planned, designed and built would be for his presidency.

The new complex has already cost TL 1.3 billion ($580 million). It is majestic and reflects the new status Turkey enjoys on the world scene. Turkey can now host foreign dignitaries with pride, without having to be embarrassed.

Yet, the opposition has lambasted Erdoğan for the new complex. They say he is acting like a sultan and the way the palace has been transformed into a presidential venue proves his authoritarian rule.

What they seem to miss is that Erdoğan is not after elevating himself to new heights. He only considers the prestige of the state, which was a source of embarrassment with the old presidential facilities.

Erdoğan as prime minister lived in a modest neighborhood of Ankara at an apartment flat. He moved to the residence of the president, vacated by Gül, which is also a modest building. He works in the new complex. Erdoğan does not own the new presidential complex. He and his team are there until the end of his tenure. Once that is over, the new resident will be the new elected president.

The only criticism that could be leveled is, while the president's office and that area should be super luxurious, the same luxury may not have been needed for the offices of his staff. The rest is just a storm in a teacup.

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