Another test for Turkish government on corruption

Another test for Turkish government on corruption

An Investigation Commission looking into the corruption allegations against four former ministers of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) is scheduled to hold a critical vote today, Jan. 5.

The voting will be on whether to send the files of former ministers Muammer Güler (Interior), Zafer Çağlayan (Economy), Erdoğan Bayraktar (Environment and Urbanization) and Egemen Bağış (European Union Affairs) to the General Assembly of the Turkish Parliament. If so, Parliament will vote on whether to lift their Constitutional immunities in order to be tried by the Supreme Court, that is to say the Constitutional Court.

Despite lip service from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and other AK Parti superiors that they would respect whatever the Commission’s decision will be, pro-government commentators have been putting pressure on Commission members for the last few days and preparing public opinion for the “clear” vote of it. The common line between those commentators and middle-ranked AK Parti officials is the same: To send the ex-ministers to the Supreme Court would mean to bow before the “coup attempt.”

Why is that so? Why is the AK Parti headquarters trying so hard to prevent its ex-ministers from acquitting themselves in the court and in the public opinion if they are really innocent, or be punished if they really had committed or were involved in a crime? Isn’t that a part of the rule of law and the need for modern good governance?

The answer is in a twin graft probe opened on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013; the first one was about a number of businessmen, bureaucrats, Party officials, including those four ministers, and the second was against - again, but this time bigger - businessmen, plus names personally close to and even family members of  (then PM, now) President Tayyip Erdoğan.

Erdoğan could not declare it a coup attempt in public immediately after the first probe on Dec. 17, so he had excluded the ministers whose names were mentioned out of the Cabinet. But when, on the day that he excluded those ministers, for whom a Parliamentary motion had been given, a second probe was opened, this time mentioning his name and names of his family, he called that “a coup attempt, not a graft probe.”

Erdoğan quickly pointed his finger at one of his closest allies, Fethullah Gülen, a moderate Islamist ideologue living in the U.S. with influential supporters in the Turkish educational, judicial and security systems under Erdoğan’s rule for the last 12 years.

Erdoğan acted quickly and with determination. He first labelled them as a “parallel structure within the state.” Then he activated the AK Parti’s dominant position in Parliament to change the rules of the game in the judiciary, pacifying prosecutors, judges and police officers whom were thought to be Gülen sympathizers. Those new prosecutors and judges dropped all charges regarding the corruption allegations (the largest in Turkish history) and Gülenists were denounced as the biggest state security problem (bigger than that posed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK]) in the last National Security Board (MGK) meeting on Dec. 30, 2014.

There is another problem. Not the entire AK Parti parliamentary group thinks that the four ex-ministers should not be tried, even if it could give a certain justification to the twin graft probes. Political observers in Ankara believe that if they would be let free by Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, the AK Parti group would be more than happy to send at least Güler, Çağlayan and Bağış before the Court.

The fact that there is media pressure on the Commission members might be an indication that Erdoğan and Davutoğlu are not 100 percent sure about the AK Parti members on the Commission. Out of 15 members on the Commission, nine are AK Parti MPs; their votes alone would be enough to say that there is no need to try the ex-ministers.

It is widely speculated in Ankara that Erdoğan is particularly uncomfortable regarding the possibility of Bağış, who had been very close to Erdoğan for many years while he was serving as his personal translator and advisor, going to trial.  

If decided by the Commission, there will be a closed voting in Parliament and no one can be sure about the outcome. And if they appear before the Court, they will be subject to disturbing questions which could partially, if not entirely, come out in the press. Even if they are not found guilty, the Court process could leave new stains behind and lead to new questions about the legacy of Erdoğan and the AK Parti.

As a further complication, Haşim Kılıç, the President of the Constitutional Court, told Sözcü newspaper last week that the members of his Court were under political pressure, implying that the pressure was coming from government circles.

In order not to let it be taken any further by the people, as the country is heading for general elections in June, neither Erdoğan nor Davutoğlu want the corruption allegations to go to the Court.

It is almost sure that if the Commission acts in parallel with the wishes of the Erdoğan-Davutoğlu administration, four ex-ministers will speak aloud that there was nothing wrong and it was all a plot by Gülenists. Will that really clear them of all suspicion in people’s minds? That is another question.

But the voting will be yet another test for the Davutoğlu government regarding his pledges to effectively fight against corruption.