Turkish President Erdoğan has always been a fan of mega projects. He fancies himself a builder; the builder and father of the new Turkey as a literal contractor. Mega projects are his signature and his means of building himself a loyal business circle.
Kanal Istanbul, an alternative manmade Bosphorus is his last mega project. Allegedly, Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II first dreamt of building such a canal. Now, it seems Erdoğan wants to be the ‘sultan’ to complete the project. Who would use the new canal when a natural one already exists? The answer is unclear. The land has already been parceled and sold for the canal to be built. However, the opposition believes the project will bring massive debt to Turkey as well as be an environmental disaster.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu took a bold stance, giving a message to international investors, saying that, when the opposition coalition takes power, they will cut funding for Kanal İstanbul. Erdoğan answered Kılıçdaroğlu, a rare occurrence, claiming that whoever takes power in Turkey will have to pay for it, thus international investors would take the matter to international arbitrage. It is important to note that, there are no avid investors as of yet. Erdoğan claimed Deutsche Bank was interested, Deutsche Bank refused any involvement as well as Erdoğan’s claim.
The leader of İYİ Party, the second biggest party in the opposition front, Meral Akşener raised a point about funding of the canal: the odious debt. According to Akşener, if the next Turkish government refused to pay for the canal, it could defend itself in the arbitrage and even make Erdoğan personally pay for the canal. Political scientist Burak Bilgehan Özpek says there is precedent, Equador’s government won a case claiming odious debt. Özpek says, since Erdoğan is a world renowned authoritarian leader, and since there has been no referendum regarding the project, a new Turkish government could easily claim that Kanal Istanbul is a project contrary to the interests of the Turkish public. Such a new government could easily say that, since the canal is Erdoğan’s pet project, and he should pay for it himself.
A politician from the opposition Future Party, Abdullah Güzeldülger, has another interpretation. Güzeldülger who used to be a member of the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund of Turkey, says, after the opposition take power, every project built during Erdoğan’s tenure must be reevaluated. He claims most of Erdoğan’s mega projects were built to support the contractor periphery around him. Turkey has hedged most of these projects, and contractors became richer and richer. Güzeldülger says, the new government would have the right to do value engineering of each project and re-bargain with the contractors. He says, Turkey should not pay this much money to Erdoğanist contractors in vain.