Bayraktar is now compared to the American Elon Musk, the richest man in the world
On May 14, 2023, Turkey will undoubtedly witness its most polarized presidential and parliamentary elections.
After 20 years in power, it is the first time that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, better known as AKP) have faced a perhaps serious challenge as Turkey grapples with years of economic mismanagement and the consequences of since the devastating earthquake in February.
His main rival and joint candidate of the six opposition parties, Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu, nicknamed the “Turkish Gandhi”, is said to be leading most opinion polls today.
However, for some discerning observers, what will happen to the Turkish state after the elections is more important than the results of the polls.
Erdogan can rise to the challenge of his 20-year rule, but a narrow victory or loss could send his AKP searching for a successor.
And that successor is widely believed to be Selçuk Bayraktar, co-owner of Turkish defense company Baykar, producer of the TB2 Bayraktar drones.
After all, it turns out that he is none other than Erdogan’s son-in-law.
Bayraktar drones are at the top worldwide
Baykar has now become the best known defense company in Türkiye.
It became the country’s largest arms exporter in 2021, with annual sales of $664 million, and the company has grown further due to the war in Ukraine.
Last year, Baykar reportedly delivered $1.20 billion worth of drones and other technology to 18 countries, including NATO countries.
In addition to drones, the company is developing an unmanned combat aircraft called “Kizilelma.”
The outstanding success rate of the TB2 Bayraktar drone has effectively strengthened Ukraine in its ongoing war against Russia.
It has made Baykar one of the most talked about drone manufacturers in the world.
It has a wingspan of only 12 meters (39 ft), a tail propeller, and three wheels.
It is armed with up to four bombs or laser-guided missiles.
Although it can’t fly as fast or carry as heavy a load as its main US and Israeli competitors, it looks more attractive at just $5 million, about a sixth the cost of the US Reaper drone and one tenth the value of Israel’s Heron TP drone.
It is worth noting that it is at the top of the purchase lists of small and medium military forces.
How Bayraktar’s drones crucially affect the political scene
Unsurprisingly, the company’s close relationship with Erdogan has become a campaign issue in Turkey.
After all, Baykar is the flagship of Turkey’s defense industry, which has reportedly grown tenfold since Erdogan came to power in 2003.
Erdogan recently declared during a speech to Turkish military recruits: “We are no longer beggars.
Everyone wants drones from us.” On the campaign trail, he unveiled defense products, including a warship from which drones would be launched in the future.
Although Baykar’s rising global profile and the revenue it generates in the country make opposition parties somewhat restrained in their comments on it, the current election campaign has been the subject of debate over whether the company should be given autonomy or whether it should be under increasing state control.
Kiliçdaroğlu has stated that no state can rely solely on the private sector to run its defense industry.
He has promised that under his rule, the state should largely control growing defense industries like Baykar, and no private sector should be allowed to produce weapons on its own.
If it is given only to the private sector, it is a big risk for Turkey,” he said recently during a pre-election rally.
Although Kiliçdaroğlu clarified that he personally has nothing against Bayraktar, the fact remains that sooner or later the latter could emerge as a formidable AKP leader, which worries him.
Erdogan has already announced that this will be his last election, regardless of the results of the polls.
And this means that the AKP is looking for a successor to whom it can pass the reins.
Since neither of his sons is interested in politics and prefers to focus on their respective business interests, Erdogan previously promoted his eldest son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, husband of his eldest daughter, Esra.
Erdogan had named him first minister of energy and natural resources and then the country’s finance and economy minister.
But Albayrak was forced to resign under controversial circumstances in 2020.
So now Erdogan is left with his youngest son-in-law, Selçuk Bayraktar, who is married to President Sümeyye Erdogan’s youngest daughter.
It is said that even if Erdogan is ousted, Bayraktar’s success has made him so popular in Turkey that no government can ignore him and his company.
His influence in Turkish politics is likely to increase.
In fact, due to his business success, Bayraktar is now compared to the American Elon Musk, the richest man in the world.
Smart and handsome, Bayraktar is 43 years old.
He has taken his family’s original automotive materials business, founded by Özdemir’s father in the 1980s, to new heights.
He studied engineering in Pennsylvania and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He returned to Turkey from the United States in 2007 and helped establish Baykar’s drone division.
The revolution came seven years later, when the company equipped the Turkish army with drones in the fight against the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Waiting for Erdoğan
Although Bayraktar has yet to publicly declare his intention to join politics, the fact remains that he seems to be doing things with a strong political advantage.
He has promised to build 1,000 new houses and 2,000 shipping containers for the victims of the February 6 earthquake.
It should be noted that this earthquake, one of the most tragic, claimed more than 50,000 lives and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.
Second, despite his technical background in the United States, he regularly posts Islamic blessings on Instagram and Twitter, where he is said to have an estimated two and a half million followers.
And here it is worth noting that in the 20 years of his rule, President Erdogan has systematically led Turkey away from the path laid out by the legendary Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey as a secular democracy.
He has promoted a moderate Islamic government, which explains Bayraktar’s “Islamic” messages in tweets and Instagram.
Third, Bayraktar’s family was close to Turkish politics, even before his marriage to Erdogan’s daughter.
Özdemir’s father was a confidant of former Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, to such an extent that the Bayraktar TB2 prototype drone was dedicated to Erbakan.
In short, Bayraktar has the pedigree, money and fame to do well in politics.
However, he is young and can always wait until Erdogan officially retires from Turkish politics.
In any case, his success has made him so popular in Turkey that no government will ignore him and his company.
After all, arms manufacturers and their investors everywhere tend to trust their prospects, regardless of which candidate or party wins the election.
This is even more true in Turkey, as such a manufacturer has all the attributes that could make any politician successful.