Saturday

15th Aug 2020

Opinion

In the ‘New’ Turkey, corruption is a thing of the past!

  • The word ‘concern’ is mentioned 39 times in the latest EU report on Turkey (Photo: Vassilena)

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been the longest serving prime minister in Turkey’s multi-party democratic history, has declared on many occasions that Turkey is now a “new” country after his election as president in August.

He has a point. For the first time in their history Turks elected their president by direct ballot. In a sense, President Erdogan and the pro-government media, together with the embedded ‘intellectuals’ of the government propaganda machine are right: this is a New Turkey.

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By ‘New Turkey’, the President and his allies mean and portray a country where democracy is as strong as its European neighbours with consolidated institutions like the parliament, the constitutional court, the court of auditors, civil society and press.

In this ‘New Turkey’ narrative, the country shines like a perfect role model: fundamental rights and freedoms keep expanding and deepening; minorities have not had it this good for centuries; justice is for everyone regardless of race, religion and gender.

Most of important of all, corruption has finally and totally been eradicated. According to Erdogan and his cronies, compared to the ‘old’ Turkey, the new one is a paragon of virtue.

Yet many international organisations, seasoned Turkey pundits and well-known academics and analysts paint a different picture. To a considerable number of Turks, the ‘New Turkey’ is worse than the ‘old one’ in many respects.

Worse than under military juntas

Parliament has never been so irrelevant when devising legislation. According to some government supporters, the president of the constitutional court should be tried for being courageous enough to overturn several anti-democratic laws hastily passed after the corruption scandal that began on 17 December 2013.

Meanwhile court of auditor reports keep being lost in the corridors of the parliament, while the number of journalists who have lost their jobs has surpassed even the periods of military juntas. The ‘new’ prime minister, responding to criticism by the main opposition party, simply advises that they “shut up”.

The most revealing example that vindicates critics’ assessment is the 17 December corruption case that rocked Turkey throughout 2014.

The then Prime Minister Erdogan proudly announced when he was in Brussels last January that there was no corruption in his country. Had such corruption existed, it would have been impossible for Turkey to develop so quickly and achieve such a dynamic economy, envied by the whole EU.

As soon as the corruption allegations became public, Erdogan sacked all the prosecutors and police chiefs involved in the investigations. He abruptly changed so many laws and directives that many in Brussels started to believe, that in a state of panic, he was trying to cover up the corruption allegations. He even dared to go as far as to ban Twitter and YouTube.

In July, those police officers who had been tasked with carrying out the corruption charges and who had already been removed from their posts, were put in jail for an attempted coup d’état. Erdogan and his ministers argue that there is no corruption but rather a judicial coup to topple their democratically elected government.

In September another case was opened. This time against a group of Besiktaş (a renowned football team) fans called Carşı who took to the streets during the June 2013 Gezi Park protests. They too were charged with attempting to topple the government.

In fact they were protesting against the government’s plans to build a shopping mall in Taksim’s Gezi Park, one of the few remaining green areas of Istanbul. In the ‘New Turkey’, whoever dares to challenge the version of events dictated by the government can now easily be charged with attempting a coup.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came on 17 October. The Public Prosecutor's Office dropped charges against all 53 suspects of the corruption allegations including four former ministers and figures very close to Erdogan himself. This was the biggest corruption scandal in Turkish history, according to the experts.

Police behind the bars

With the police officers who carried out the corruption charges behind bars for an attempted coup d’état and the announcement of the prosecutor (who was hastily appointed to the case replacing the one who initially started the investigation) that there was no need to press charges for corruption, the ‘New Turkey’ was born.

President Erdogan was proven ‘right’. There was no corruption, but a judicial coup in the country.

The European Union does not seem to have bought the argument. In this year’s progress report, out on 8 October, the EU makes it clear that Brussels is very concerned about the direction Turkey has taken since 17 December.

The word “concern” is mentioned 39 times in the 80-page report.

For experts, the EU has never been so vocal in its concerns since it first began publishing its annual report in 1998. Despite Erdogan’s and his ministers’ numerous visits to Brussels, the EU has not given any hint that it believes there was a coup in Turkey. Rather it insists corruption charges be thoroughly investigated.

The report states: “The government’s response to allegations of corruption targeting high-level personalities, including members of the government and their families, raised serious concerns over the independence of judiciary and the rule of law”. It asks for a fully transparent and impartial investigation.

Furthermore, EU officials rightly ask why four ministers had to resign in the first place if there were no corruption at all.

Erdogan’s ‘New Turkey’ is moving away from EU norms faster than the ‘old’ one, demolishing the governments’ significant achievements of the last 10 years.

The writer is the Brussels Bureau Chief of Zaman Daily

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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