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Erdogan’s twist a’la turka

Erdogan's twist a'la turka

Fatih Mayor Mustafa Demir was among the AKP politicians arrested on the 17th of December 2013.

In this post I would like to make two things clear regarding what happened in Turkey the 17th of December 2013. My mayor points are marked in bold.

First, let me state that corruption is widespread among Turkish politicians.

All Turks know it. And especially they know that Erdogan’s government is corrupt. If someone would tell you otherwise, it is a Turkish way of saying: Ok, he is corrupt but I still support him, I accept that he takes bribes because all politicians do.

Thus, what surprised people on the 17th of December, was not that they found out about corruption within the government, but that prosecutors and the police did something about it.

Erdogan’s way of dealing with the graft probe has famously been to blame the Islamic scholar Fetullah Gülen for having ordered it against his government.

I will admit that Erdogan probably has a point about the loyal followers of Fetullah Gülen in the state system, that they might be somehow influenced by the Islamic scholar’s opinions. But Erdogan’s twist of this reality should be clearly understood:

Any crime that this “gang within the state” might have committed took place during the years before 2013, when they did not investigate the government’s corruption, despite clear evidence of it.

(e.g. read this article about how the corruption in the municipal district of Fatih in Istanbul was discovered.)

Thus, Erdogan has fired and replaced hundreds of police officers and prosecutors, not because they where doing anything wrong, but because they started to do things right!

It can only be described as a twist a’la turka!

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The Istanbul Earthquake and the Political Neglect

After an earthquake hit Izmit, a city about 100 kilometres east of Istanbul, in 1999 it became obvious that buildings in Turkey built during the previous decades generally were of low quality in terms of earthquake safety. Many of the buildings in Izmit collapsed, leaving its inhabitants crushed between the concrete floors.

The Istanbul Earthquake and the Political Neglect

The Istanbul Earthquake and the Political Neglect

To fund preparations for future earthquakes, not least the one awaiting Istanbul, a special earthquake tax was enacted and made permanent in 2003. This tax, called Özel Iletişim Vergisi, meant that an extra 25 percent was added to all Internet, mobile and telephone landline bills in Turkey. However, when an earthquake hit the city Van in eastern Turkey in 2011, the finance minister Mehmet Şimşek, admitted that the money had been used to build roads, and had not been spent for the intended purpose. “There is no such thing as an earthquake tax!” prime minister Tayyip Erdogan lectured in his usual manner as the critique grew more fierce a couple of days after the news broke, meaning that tax money can’t be earmarked for certain purposes. Considering the high probability of a big quake in Istanbul and the low quality of buildings there, this talk is naturally nonsense and might just hide a disease too common in Turkey: corruption.

To understand how much 25 percent of all the mobile, internet and telephone landlines bills is, lets take a look at the most recent number of mobile subscriptions in Turkey. As of 2013, there was a total of 68.9 million subscriptions and a very modest assumption would be that each of these are billed about 20 TL every month. Knowing that a 25 percent tax is in that that price, we consequently get about 4 TL in tax per subscription, adding up to:

275 million TL per month and 3,3 billion TL per year!

…and mark well that this is only the money that is collected from mobile subscriptions, leaving out the telephone land line bills and the internet subscriptions.

And now I wonder: Correctly spent on its intended purpose, how many lives would this money be able to save just in Istanbul?

The answer: many

Reinforcements of unsafe buildings, informing the public about what to do when an earthquake hits, or just handing out earthquake kits or changing old gas pipes to flexible ones in plastic, are overall measures that cost very little, but might still mean the difference between life and death.

It’s a shame that this is not discussed more in the Turkish media before it is too late. Many politicians of today will have blood on their hands when the earthquake hits Istanbul.

A Gezi protest within the AK Party?

It is easy to forget that the AK Party is a political unit that most likely would function without it’s leader Tayyip Erdogan. The way that Erdogan rules the party, reminds more of a military commander directing his troops on the battlefield than a democratically elected leader that listen, learn and argue. Those who question Erdogan are immediately expelled from the party. Given that, it is natural that Erdogan takes all criticism personal. Criticizing AK Party means criticizing him.

Lately, however, we have witnessed some interesting signs of resistance against Erdogan in a way that was unthinkable just one year ago. It started with the former famous football player and deputy Hakan Şükur, who resigned December 16, publicly slamming Erdogan for his plan to close down the prep schools, seen as an direct attack on the Islamic scholar Fetullah Gülen, who Hakan Şükur stands close. And after the graft probe was initiated one day later, additionally eight deputies resigned, as a protest against Erdogan’s way of interfering in the ongoing probe, trying to obstruct the justice. Even the finance minister, Mehmet Şimşek, criticized the sacking of police officers initially, but suddenly became very quite on the issue. Most likely, these objections are the tip of an iceberg, and if the political unrest continues, we might witness a Gezi protest within the AK Party. Such a protest would probably erupt equally unexpected as the Gezi protests that took place in Taksim in June 2013. That’s the way it works in Turkey. People are friendly and patient, but there is always a limit. I know that not least from personal experiences.

The critical point that has to be reached for this to happen is that members of the party start to see Erdogan as more of a liability than an asset. Because of the way Erdogan dominates the party, it is easy to forget that not all leading members are corrupt and democratically blinded by a will for power. The AK Party is not the problem. Erdogan is! His response to the graft probe clearly signals that he is more interested in saving his own family than developing Turkey into a true democracy. If he continues along that path without managing to stabilize the political situation, that critical point might be reached much sooner than anyone would guess.

So, what is Erdogan afraid of? Is it to lose the money he has stacked away? Most likely! But even if it weren’t for the corruption charges against his family, he would still be deadly afraid of losing his political immunity. Considering the amount of enemies he has created over the years, not the least within the military because of the Ergenekon trial, staying in power is the only way to survive in a country like Turkey. Thus, Erdogan stepping down voluntarily is not a likely scenario. Excluding the opportunity of an enormous failure for the AK Party in the upcoming elections of 2014, a Gezi protest within AKP is the most likely way forward for democracy in Turkey!

A Gezi protest within the Ak Party

A Gezi protest within the Ak Party

Gülen is not the point

Since the graft probe including former ministers of the AKP government became public on December 17th, and the arrests of the minister’s sons took place, Erdogan and his government have described the case as a plot with the aim of toppling AKP’s 11 years old rule. Behind it lie international forces afraid of Turkey’s rise as an economic power in the region, but also a so called gang within the state, a clear a reference to Fetullah Gülen’s loyal members within the state apparatus. How these two pictures are combined, has never been explained nor elaborated.

When it comes to the claims of an international conspiracy, only media outlets close to the government (Sabah, Yeni Safak etc.), has taken these seriously. Other newspapers has mostly seen it as a way for Erdogan to play upon old conspiracy theories, popular in a certain segment of voters.

The claim that Fetullah Gülen has loyal people within the police force and the judiciary system on the other hand, has bearing. But in relation to the serious accusations and the seemingly solid evidence that the graft probe is based upon, describing the whole case as the fight between Erdogan and Gülen, as even many newspapers critical of the government has done, is not only wrong, but is also skewing the public debate to Erdogans advantage. The AKP strategy has very clearly been to describe the graft case as a war against them, thus justifying the sacking of over 500 police officers, not making any real comments about the accusations and obstructing the justice. By adopting this description, AKP’s attempts to avoid further investigation is given credibility.

It is therefore time to stop talking about Gülen vs. Erdogan. Such talk is only distracting the debate from what is really going on among high government officials in the frail democracy of the Turkish republic.

Gülen is not the point

Erdogan and Gülen back in the days

Also read this article on the subject.