‘We wouldn’t burn the house because of thieves inside’

‘We wouldn’t burn the house because of thieves inside’

The quote in the title belongs to an important name from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti).

Our conversation was not an on-the-record one, so I cannot give his name and position. But I can say that he comes from a conservative family and was renowned in political circles as such even before the AK Parti was established.

This was the question that I asked him: You are known as one of the wise people in your party. How do you consider the party attitude regarding the ex-ministers accused of being involved in corruption? Wouldn’t it be better for democracy if you’d stressed the individuality of crime and ask them to prove their innocence in courts, instead of trying to provide parliamentary cover?

My question was in reference to the parliamentary probe against four ex-ministers who had been left out of the cabinet by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan after their names were mentioned in the corruption allegations within the framework of the graft probe opened on Dec. 17, 2013. After persistent pressure by the opposition parties and criticism from outside of Turkey, a parliamentary investigation commission was established to look into the allegations against (all former) Interior Minister Muammer Güler, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, European Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış and Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar. But instead of establishing separate commissions, there is going to be one for all accusations and the number commission members will be according to the seats in the Parliament, so there will be AK Parti domination in the commission as well.

He took a pause and gave this answer:

* “Consider our Party as a big house. And consider the prime minister as the father of this big family. When the corruption allegations broke, the attitude of neither the Cemaat [followers of moderate Islamist scholar Fethullah Gülen] nor the opposition parties which speculated on those allegations aimed to punish the individual crime. Also some media institutions aimed at Erdoğan directly. They tried to put him down."

* “They tried to burn our house, claiming there were thieves inside. We understood that their purpose was to put the government down. To keep the government is the most important thing for Erdoğan, for all of us. We wouldn’t let the house be burnt because of thieves inside. If necessary, we can let them punished, if there is a theft, after everything is settled. If their purpose was to punish the thieves only for the sake of the country, then our stance could have been different. This is my understanding of the story and I think most of the party would agree with that.”

I also believe that those words represent the widespread understanding of the AK Parti with its administration and grassroots. That is in parallel with the feelings against AK Parti’s once-ally Gülen as the arch enemy now. On May 8, I quoted in my Hürriyet Daily News column a supporter of the Ak Parti who was saying that “My son-in-law is a Gülenist but my daughter is a Muslim,” showing how deep the divide is at the moment. It also contains a strong criticism against the opposition parties, mainly the CHP and MHP for falling into the same line as the Cemaat.

The AK Parti feels as if it is cornered and in a defensive mood nowadays.

But the corruption allegations are still on the desk. Will the “thieves in the house” be punished one day when Erdoğan feels more uncomfortable? Perhaps after the presidential elections in August?

It is hard to answer for now. But there was one important piece of news on the afternoon of May 9 regarding the corruption allegations. The government-controlled Ziraat Bank announced that its board member Süleyman Aslan had resigned. After being released from prison after a series of changes in the justice system, he was appointed by Erdoğan government as a Ziraat Board member on March 31, a day after the local elections. He was arrested when he was general manager of another government controlled bank, Halkbank, on Dec. 17, and according to official sources, $4.5 million in cash packed in shoeboxes had been found in his house.

An Istanbul prosecutor had turned down Aslan’s demand for prosecution against journalists (including myself) who had reported his arrest.