Why is PM waiting until polls for anti-Gülen operations?

Why is PM waiting until polls for anti-Gülen operations?

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has vowed to start an operation against Gülenist public servants after the local elections on March 30.

That vow came in his March 5 speech in Ankara, where he also admitted to intervening in a court case and a military tender after the emergence of illegal recordings of both phone interventions hit the Internet.

“All of the dirty relationships and the dirty actions” he said, implying the Gülen movement, “will be revealed one by one, and their perpetrators will face justice.”

Fethullah Gülen is a moderate Islamist scholar living in the U.S. with a global network of sympathizers, and he used to be Erdoğan’s closest ally in power, (a period that will complete its 12th year by autumn of 2014). Gülen had not only given clear orders to his followers to give active support and work door-to-door for Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) in previous elections, but prosecutors and judges allegedly close to Gülen played crucial roles in clearing the way for Erdoğan from the secularist establishment, the military and the Kurds in cases like Ergenekon, Balyoz and the KCK from 2006 to 2012.

The first signs of disagreements were shown in 2012, when allegedly Gülenist prosecutors and judges arrested Erdoğan’s former Chief of General Staff, İlker Başbuğ, for establishing and leading a “terrorist organization” to overthrow the government (after which he was sentenced to life in prison on those charges) and when they also wanted to interrogate Erdoğan’s intelligence chief for establishing illegal contacts with Kurdish activists at a time when he was authorized by the PM to do so.

The gap between Erdoğan and Gülen became visible after the Dec. 17, 2013 graft probe. Claiming that there was no graft, but a “coup attempt” against him, Erdoğan has accused pro-Gülen prosecutors, judges and policemen of being behind it. Thousands of policemen were removed from their positions in the wake of the probe and in order to be able to change the balance in the judicial system, Erdoğan changed the law for judges and prosecutors using his party’s majority in Parliament.

In in order to avoid more leaks of tapped phone conversations between him and his Cabinet ministers, family members, etc., Erdoğan pushed for a law limiting the use of the Internet. Another law endorsing the powers of the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) is expected to be voted on in Parliament after the elections. Intelligence officials, by the way, believe all encrypted telephone conversations in the top echelons of the government could have been compromised, recorded and passed to a foreign source over the last two years. The Gülen movement was named as a threat to national security in the latest National Security Board (MGK) meeting on Feb. 26.

On March 6, pro-government media voiced the possibility of moves against Gülen’s followers and the opening of court cases against those establishing “parallel” or secret organizations within the government and the judiciary, as well as the possibility of changing the whole human resources regime and firing public officials thought to be involved.

Erdoğan himself hinted possible accusations, ranging from banking to the civil service and university entrance exams, from extortion and blackmail to espionage.

Without forgetting that all of these have taken place during Erdoğan’s 12-year one-party rule, one may ask why Erdoğan has to wait until the March 30 elections if he can see such serious crimes? If such crimes have been committed and there are criminals around, why doesn’t he put pressure on the judiciary to start the probes immediately?

One may also ask, who is going to take responsibility if somebody gets hurt in physical, legal or financial terms as a result of the crimes between now and March 30?

Does Erdoğan still have some hope that he might receive a marginal benefit on the local scale from local Gülen networks, based on the mutual interests of AK Parti candidates, especially in critical places? Can Ankara be one of those places, since it seems that only Melih Gökçek, the party’s mayor of Ankara, exempts himself from the obligatory denunciation of Gülen in the AK Parti trenches?

Anyway, before or after the local elections, the Erdoğan-Gülen confrontation is likely to continue to be a major factor in Turkish politics this year, as Turkey heads to presidential and perhaps early general elections.