Strong­man Pol­i­tics

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.

Southasia - - INTERNATIONAL - By Naveed Ah­mad

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.

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