22nd Oct 2016


The ‘grand theory’ and the corruption scandal in Turkey

  • The image of Erdogan's AK Party is damaged - its abbreviation literally means 'clean' (Photo: Wikipedia/Ekim Caglar)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has survived numerous coup attempts and narrowly escaped a court verdict that would ban his governing party in 2008, is now facing the most serious crisis his single party government has confronted for the last 12 years.

On 17 December, Turkish police detained around 50 people on corruption, money laundering and bribery grounds. Some have called the charges the biggest corruption scandal of Turkish Republican history. What made the detentions so volatile was the fact that three of the detained were sons of powerful ministers.

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The investigation deeply damaged the image of the AK Party (its abbreviation literally means 'clean’) not only at home but also abroad where Turkey was seen as a source of inspiration for the Arab Spring countries.

In the immediate aftermath of the scandal, it emerged that Europe minister Egemen Bağış was also implicated.

Erdoğan, who successfully built up the image of his party as being corruption-free, chose to react in a way that radically deviates from the traditional AK Party line.

He not only refused to immediately ask for the resignation of four ministers but also kept the Interior Minister Muammer Güler, whose son was detained. This allowed him to remove hundreds of police chiefs who were investigating the case.

Meanwhile, when three ministers whose sons were detained were forced to resign after nine days, Urban Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar, a confidant of Erdoğan for decades, went live on TV screens and bluntly declared that whatever he did was known by the prime minister and he should also resign for the sake of the "homeland."

Bayraktar’s son was released several days later without any formal charges against him. Another confidant of Erdoğan since his mayorship of Istanbul in the early 1990s, the former Interior Minister, İdris Naim Şahin, also resigned from the AK Party which he served as secretary general between 2001-2011.

He accused the party leadership of letting "a small oligarchical group whose intentions were not clear" rule the country.

Pushing the wrong buttons

Erdoğan has pushed all the wrong buttons throughout the scandal.

The directive for judicial police was altered overnight. The change forced police to inform their superiors about any investigation - contrary to Turkish law.

The police issued a new directive for the press and prohibited journalists from going to police departments without prior authorization.

The press offices in the departments were closed and journalists were asked to return their badges. The Council of State has struck down both directives but it is still not clear whether the reporters will be able to enter police departments again.

Right after the first investigation, a second one in which Erdoğan’s son was reportedly implicated was stopped by the executive.

The prosecutor, Muammer Akkaş, who announced that his investigation was forcefully halted by the executive, was later declared by Erdoğan to be "a true disgrace."

In the ensuing fight within the state bureaucracy, the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HCJP) called on the executive to respect the judiciary and not to intervene in the ongoing investigations.

Erdoğan then announced that he would press for amendments to change the structure not only of HCJP but also the Council of State which had dared to strike down the controversial directives that were hastily passed in the wake of the corruption scandal.

The very HCJP that Erdoğan now so eagerly wants to change is actually the result of a hard-won constitutional referendum back in 2010. It was hailed both by the EU and the Council of Europe at the time as a huge step forward against corruption.

It was Erdoğan who campaigned relentlessly to change the HCJP back in 2010 and it is the same Erdoğan now who wants to change the rules.

The grand theory

While the infighting intensifies, the government’s rhetoric to combat corruption has disappeared.

Instead, Erdoğan, who has done so much to democratise his country for the last 11 years, espouses a "grand theory" to explain all the unfolding events.

According to his grand theory, both Gezi (the protests in Istanbul last year) and the corruption scandal were internationally orchestrated with the help of domestic collaborators (i.e. the Hizmet movement led by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen) to torpedo the rise of Turkey as a global player.

The US, Israel, the Vatican and even occasionally EU are all said to be involved.

In his address to the nation at the end of the year, Erdoğan argued that the corruption scandal was an assassination attempt on democracy.

The man once rightfully hailed as the biggest reformer after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic, is now damaging the very basis of a functioning democracy he himself did so much to consolidate.

Erdoğan engineered the once-inconceivable reforms to start accession talks with the European Union. Now, however, he gives the impression that he is backtracking on each and every reform step he himself achieved just to cover up a corruption scandal.

The writer is Brussels Bureau Chief of the Turkish daily newspaper Zaman


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