Erdoğan may have sacked transport minister due to Kanal Istanbul tender

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan replaced Transport Minister Mehmet Cahit Turhan on Friday over the decision to hold a tender for a disputed canal project in Istanbul while the country was struggling with the coronavirus pandemic, said Sabah daily’s lead writer Mehmet Barlas in his Monday column.

With millions of Istanbul residents stuck at home and thousands of businesses closed in the effort to curb the virus’s spread, the Transport Ministry’s Highways Department went ahead with the first tender for the Kanal Istanbul project on Thursday, accepting bids for projects to remove and rebuild two historic bridges on the route of the canal.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s headline megaproject to build a waterway bypassing Istanbul’s Bosporus Strait is already a source of heated debate in Turkey, where many believe it could do irreversible damage to the local ecology. Erdoğan has vowed to plough ahead with the project, which he says is necessary due to heavy traffic on the Bosporus and will bring economic benefits.

But the image of government officials donning medical masks to conduct the tender while the government was advising people to lock themselves in their homes was too much for the president, Barlas said.

No reason was given for Turhan’s dismissal when the order was published in the Official Gazette the morning after the tender was held. “But the widely held opinion is that it was because of the untimely Kanal Istanbul tender,” said Barlas.