Notions such as separation of powers, the need for checks and balances and accountability, are fast eroding in Turkey – the world’s 18th largest economy.
His name is Necmeddin Bilal and he is one of the many young Turkish entrepreneurs who have been adding value to Brand Turkey since 1995. After all, to be successful in the highly competitive food business in Turkey is no ordinary feat.
Therefore, it was quite a surprise when a suave business wizard of Bilal’s stature became the cause of a fist fight in the parliament. The brawl resulted in the hospitalization of an MP with a bleeding eye wound. Bülent Tezcan, Deputy Chairman of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), was hit in the eye by Saral Okay, an MP from the ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP) when he asked Bilal to appear before a court and defend the corruption allegations against him.
Why would an MP display such aggression for a simple case involving a businessman? Well, Necmeddin Bilal is not just another multi-millionaire. He is the son of Turkey’s third-time
Premier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ever since the police raided the homes of four ministers and an Azeri-Iranian on December 17, 2013, corruption allegations against the Erdogan government have come out of discreet drawing room conversations to become newspaper headlines.
The Financial Crimes and Battle against Criminal Incomes Department of the Istanbul Security Directory had detained 47 people, including officials of the Housing Development Administration of Turkey, the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning and the District Municipality of Fatih while the sons of three Turkish ministers (interior, economy and environment and urban planning) have also been implicated.
Moreover, a real estate businessman, the top-level management of the stateowned Halkbank and an Iranian-Azerbaijani businessman Reza Zarrab was also arrested for illegal gold trade worth $9.6 billion. He is said to be working for the Iranian government to seek oil revenues – an evasion of international sanctions on Iran. While a minister is accused to have received an expensive watch from Zarrab, another minister reportedly took massive bribes from him. Some $4.5 million were found hidden in shoeboxes at the home of a top official of the Halkbank.
Bilal and his brother Burak Erdogan are high-profile suspects in the graft case which their father is trying his best to stall. Within days after the investigation began, its initiator, Prosecutor Muammer Akkas, was dismissed from his job.
So far, the first sons have been evading the prosecutor’s summons while their powerful father is spewing out anger, crying foul and accusing his opponents of conspiring against him.
Given that he is at the peak of his political career, Erdogan was expected to get a landslide victory in the municipal elections come March. But the strongman of Turkey seems shaken. He has replaced half of his cabinet with new loyalists. Terming the graft probe as a dirty operation, Bilal’s father has fired over 600 police officials while prosecutors across the country have been reshuffled to impede the investigation.
Before the judiciary issues orders for his son’s arrest, Erdogan and his AKP are trying to pass new legislation that seeks to put the judiciary under the executive powers of the regime’s handpicked minister of justice.The AKP, which had won the 2011 referendum on rewriting the constitution with a thumping majority, was mandated to separate the judiciary from the executive. From the European Union to other stakeholders and friends of Turkey, noo ne is happy with the way Erdogan has been playing partisan instead of being neutral.
When the AKP came to power in 2001, the Turkish Lira started to strengthen at an envious pace only to take a nosedive at a speed hard to arrest after the initiation of the December 17 probe. It is feared that by mid-February, the Turkish currency may have undergone 100 percent depreciation since the crisis began. Global financial analysts estimate that the country might have lost $54 billion during the ongoing crisis. For a country which bravely withstood the Eurozone economic crisis, its own authoritarian leadership is proving to be its worst enemy.
Owing to unfair practices of the executive, politicians and finance managers, Turkey has already started to experience a decline in investment. The private sector, which owes $225 billion in debt, has suffered heavily with a steep decline in the currency value.
Many Turkish academics and foreign observers believe that the financial implications of the crisis do not reflect the real losses the country is going to suffer. Alarmed by Erdogan’s authoritarian policies, the intelligentsia fears a reversal of the democratic liberties that have been won over the past decade.
Some are apprehensive that a prolonged domestic crisis may provoke the army generals to hit back at the democratic setup and reassert themselves as the guardians of Kemalism. After all, it hasn’t been long since Erdogan’s AKP brought the military under the democratic government’s control.
This unprecedented success may prove short-lived and unsustainable. A powerful politician’s desperate attempts at self-preservation are likely to result in new compromises to seek new allies – a recipe for disaster for a nation heavily polarized along ideological and social lines.
The European Union and human rights activists continue to question the Turkish intelligence agency, MIT’s NSA-like surveillance of Turkish citizens. Profiling of citizens at the hands of the agency’s sleuths has emerged as an undeniable fact. This record-keeping is now helping the regime dismiss some officials and blackmail others for their ideological leanings or lifestyle choices.
Moreover, today’s Turkey remains the world’s number one jailer of journalists for the second consecutive year. Erdogan has resorted to moving courts against journalists critical of his person or policies. Some of them lost jobs and others had to pay heavy fines.
The majority of the privatelyowned media is pro-government while the dissenting media houses work under a continuous risk of closure. The doors of police offices are shut on such journalists while the practice of tapping phones continues unchecked. Internet traffic is continuously monitored while the electronic media regulatory body has been threatening anchors and news channels for criticizing the government.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is commonly understood to be Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself, who has scrutinized its ranks to ward off all threats of a fallout in the wake of controversial legislations and authoritarian actions. At least four MPs have resigned in protest so far after having criticized the premier’s decisions.
Notions such as separation of powers, the need for checks and balances and accountability are fast eroding in the world’s 18th largest economy.
Though Erdogan may win the municipal election with a wide margin in March, public trust in state institutions has plummeted to an unprecedented level.
As for Bilal Erdogan, he may pay a symbolic visit to a prosecutor in the weeks to come. But that is unlikely to restore the lost credibility of his father’s ‘Justice’ and ‘Development’ Party.
The Turkish nation needs strong political parties instead of a strongman calling the shots. Equally vital here is a unified and inherently democratic opposition to weather the storm ignited by the inflated ego of one man who is bent upon undoing his glorious contributions to the Turkish nation. The writer is an investigative journalist and academic. He specializes in conflict and disaster reporting.