Price tag of Turkey’s presidential palace draws ire

At a whopping cost of US$615 million, Mr Erdogan's opponents have accused him of tramping on the country’s political system.

The new Ak Saray presidential palace (White Palace) on the outskirts of Ankara. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's new palace is costing Turkey over US$600 million, the Turkish finance minister said on November 4, considerably raising previous estimates. Adem Altan/AFP Photo
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ANKARA // A palace four times the size of Versailles. A custom-built Airbus jet. Dozens of servants.

Since becoming Turkey’s president in August, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned this once-ceremonial post into a new seat of power that is transforming how Turkey is ruled — and he is making sure the seat in question has all the trappings too.

The new palace, inaugurated last week, was originally intended for the prime minister, and comes at a cost of about US$615 million (Dh2.26 billion), the official Anadolou news agency reported finance minister Mehmet Simsek as saying. The Airbus jet cost $185m, according to Mr Simsek, after it was refitted with Mr Erdogan’s own design specifications.

The largesse has drawn the ire of opponents who accuse Mr Erdogan of tramping on the country’s political system, said Atilla Yesilada, an economist at GlobalSource Partners, a New York-based consultancy.

The palace, which was constructed against court orders in a national park, shows Mr Erdogan’s “increasing sense of being above the country he governs and the rule of law,” Mr Yesilada said. “Whoever criticises Erdogan and the ruling elite’s behaviour is labelled a betrayer of the nation.”

Mr Erdogan’s office did not comment when contacted. Mr Erdogan told a meeting of the ruling AKP on March 5 that “no one can prevent the completion of this building. If they are powerful enough, let then come and demolish it.”

The new presidential pad, the AK Saray, or White Palace — a play on the name of Turkey’s ruling AKP — was also designed, in part, by Mr Erdogan. It has 1,000 rooms, green granite inlays, and washrooms with silk wallpaper, said Tezcan Karakus Candan, head of Ankara’s Chamber of Architects, which tried to stop the building work with 33 court cases starting in 2007. Mature plane trees in the grounds, which probably cost about $3,750 apiece to import, subsequently died, she said.

The palace’s floor area of 289,000 square metres exceeds that of the world’s current largest residential palace, the Istana Nurul Iman palace of the Sultan of Brunei, which was completed in 1984 at a cost of $442 million, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

Mr Erdogan has repeatedly said he would like to replace Turkey’s parliamentary system with a more presidential one. So far, his supporters have lacked the two-thirds parliamentary majority necessary to alter the constitution. Even so, Mr Erdogan says he’ll be an “active” president by chairing weekly cabinet meetings, which former heads of states rarely did.

Mr Erdogan has vowed to work closely with prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu who will use the former presidential residence for receptions. “The new Turkey should express itself with something new,” Mr Erdogan said, referring to the plane and the other trappings of his office.

* Bloomberg News