Corruption probe shakes Erdoğan government to core
The resignations of two Turkish Cabinet ministers on the morning of Dec. 25 were not something unexpected.
The names of Interior Minister Muammer Güler and Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan had been involved in a graft probe which was started on Dec. 17; a son of both have been arrested by the court on charges of taking and facilitating bribes to solve government-related problems. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said the resignations were “too late.”
The question was why the other two ministers whose names were involved in the probe had not resigned yet. Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar’s son had been detained in the framework of the probe, but was released later on. No one was related to European Union Minister Egemen Bağış within the investigations, but his name was mentioned a lot in relations with Iranian-origin businessmen Reza Zarrab’s affairs in Turkey. Zarrab is at the focus of the probe, regarding his transfer of gold/money to Iran via Turkey’s government-controlled Halkbank. The manager of the bank has also been arrested.
According to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, the whole corruption probe is an “international plot” against his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government which has been ruling the country since 2002. When he pointed at the U.S.-originated conspiracies, he had a strong reaction from the U.S. administration so that they would not get involved in the case. (Mainly because of two reasons: Because Halkbank was too successful and the U.S. wanted to stop Turkey’s progress by hitting Halkbank, and because the moderate Islamist scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has an influence on the judicial and police system, is living in the U.S.)
But an hour before Erdoğan’s year-end address to his party executives, a big blow came from one of the ministers under accusation.
Bayraktar said in a live TV interview that he was under pressure to read out a cliché resignation statement – similar to those of Çağlayan and Güler. He resigned from both his ministerial post and from Parliament, saying he did not want to be known in future as a corrupt minister since he did everything under PM Erdoğan’s knowledge and, under the circumstances, PM Erdoğan should resign as well.
That remark had a bombshell effect on Turkish politics.
All eyes turned on Erdoğan’s speech after underlining at length the AK Parti’s successes and how the Western world was jealous about them and that this “international plot” had also targeted the government’s initiative in pursuit of a political solution to the Kurdish problem. He claimed that those who were carrying out the probe were “tools” and even “spies” of international forces.
But he did not say a word about his former minister’s accusations and call for a resignation.
Whether Erdoğan is convincing at home or abroad, attention has now been directed toward a government reshuffle.
Erdoğan was to suggest new names for three ministerial posts before the corruption probe anyway, as the justice, transportation and family ministers have been named for mayoral positions for the local elections on March 30, 2014.
Now we have three more resignations which widen the scope of the reshuffle to at least six. The corruption probe seems to have forced Erdoğan into a larger Cabinet reshuffle with names perhaps he had never planned before.
Erdoğan is in a dilemma. If he had sacked the ministers whose names are involved in the probe on the first day as President Abdullah Gül suggested, perhaps he could have saved his image. If now keeps the scope of the reshuffle limited, it will be understood that he could not read how serious the situation was.
The expectations in the Ankara political corridor by Tuesday afternoon were that up to 10 names in the Cabinet would change. Anyway, nothing might be as before regarding his almighty image and perhaps the all-clean image of his government he wants to highlight.