The Zarrab case and corruption claims could bring Turkey’s elections forward

The Zarrab case and corruption claims could bring Turkey’s elections forward

Two separate processes have put additional stress on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The first is the ongoing case in New York, in which Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab revealed the details of a scheme that enabled him and his conspirators to bypass U.S. sanctions on Iran.

His testimonies touch on claims that Zarrab bribed former AKP ministers with millions of euros and dollars between 2011 and 2013. They also remind us of the December 2013 corruption probes that embroiled four ministers - former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, former EU Minister Egemen Bağış, former Interior Minister Muammer Güler and former Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar. In January 2015 the Turkish Parliament voted not to send them to trial thanks to a majority of AKP votes.

The second source of stress is the documented allegations initiated by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, which purport to show that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s family members transferred millions of dollars to a company in the tax haven Isle of Man in the years 2011 and 2012.

CHP spokesman Bülent Tezcan shared these documents with the media on Dec 1, vowing to also hand them to prosecutors. This move came after a prosecutor in Ankara launched a probe on the documents Kılıçdaroğlu brandished at his parliamentary group meeting on Nov 28.

The CHP head has also implied that he holds other, similar documents that reveal the secret transactions and financial activities of Erdoğan’s family members.

In addition to these worries, Zarrab’s testimony has intensified concerns that the banks and financial institutions involved in the gold-trader’s scheme could face serious financial sanctions for violating U.S. laws. Given the poor performance of the Turkish Lira against the U.S. dollar and the euro, especially in the last couple of months, along with the deterioration of Turkey’s ties with the U.S. and the West in general, the economic implications of the Zarrab case could prove more harmful than initially realized.

Meanwhile, the AKP and its main ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), appear to be accelerating efforts to draft new laws, including the Election Law and Political Parties Law.

Having conducted a closed door meeting with AKP deputies on Nov. 30, Erdoğan was also expected to meet Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım on Dec. 1, ostensibly to develop a road map for drafting what the AKP calls “adjustment laws.” Although the April referendum paved the way for a shift from a parliamentary system to an executive presidential system in Turkey, the aforementioned laws still need to change before the next parliamentary and presidential elections.

Three key questions remain: Will the 10-percent election threshold be lowered? Will parties be allowed to form pre-election alliances? And will the current electoral system be changed?

Erdoğan is unlikely to endorse lowering the election threshold, despite earlier calls from his ally MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli. Instead, he might suggest a better formula to the MHP. The AKP and the MHP could form a pre-election alliance and enter parliament together, while the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the new İYİ (Good) Party languish below the threshold. If this plan works, the next parliament could consist solely of AKP, CHP and MHP deputies, with a clear majority awarded to the AKP-MHP coalition. 

These are early days, but such developments could induce the AKP-MHP coalition to push for early elections in 2018. Both parties regard the Zarrab case and CHP revelations as an attack on Turkey and its national interests and should have no difficulty inflaming nationalist sentiments.

As a result, a snap election before the economic consequences manifest themselves could prove advantageous to the nationalist-conservative duo.

Serkan Demirtaş, hdn, opinion