Corruption will remain a stigma for Erdoğan

Corruption will remain a stigma for Erdoğan

As this piece was being written, the parliamentary commission looking into corruption allegations against four former ministers from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) had not yet voted on whether they should be sent to the Supreme Council to stand trial or not.

It was, however, a fairly safe bet that the vote later in the day would favor former ministers Zafer Cağlayan, Muammer Güler, Egemen Bağış and Erdoğan Bayraktar. The reason has nothing to do with the law or justice.

As matters stand, official investigations have revealed serious irregularities concerning the wealth the accused have accumulated and the privileges they dished out to friends while in office. Corruption allegations within the context of this scandal have also splashed on to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

What is involved here, therefore, is politics. The matter concerns Erdoğan and the AKP’s political reputation. The “Dec. 17/ 25 corruption scandal,” so called because of the dates it broke out in 2013, has been transformed by Erdoğan into an alleged coup attempt by the Gülen group against himself and the government.

According to Erdoğan, what is involved here is merely an attempt to discredit and topple the democratically elected AKP government. He repeats this charge incessantly, indicating at every opportunity that Fetullah Gülen and his associates will be dealt with severely under the law for this. The recent operation against Gülen’s media outlets show he has sufficient influence in the judiciary and police to take concrete steps in this direction.

The results of the March local elections and August presidential elections, on the other hand, show that he has either convinced a large portion of the electorate about the alleged coup attempt, or that this portion of the electorate simply does not care about corruption in the government as long as their man remains in office.

Due to prevailing political circumstances, therefore, the nine AKP members of the 14-member parliamentary inquiry commission really had no choice other than voting against recommending that the four former ministers be sent to the Supreme Council.

Doing otherwise would only prove that what is involved here is a case of corruption and not a coup attempt as Erdoğan claims. This would not only undermine Erdoğan’s position, but also amount to shooting the AKP, and consequently themselves, in the foot.

Of course, there is a catch which has technically allowed the AKP members of the commission to appear to be doing the politically correct thing. Even if they recommended that the people involved are tried at the Supreme Council, at least 276 votes would still have to be secured in the general assembly in Parliament for this to happen.

Given the present parliamentary mathematics, this means 52 AKP deputies would have to vote against the former ministers. It is unlikely that any AKP deputy, including members of the inquiry commission, would do so and weaken Erdoğan and their party.

The bottom line is that the four who are accused know they are fairly safe, even if some press reports indicate there are AKP members whose consciences are deeply disturbed over their case. Their case, however, will not go away for Erdoğan and the AKP.

It seems unlikely that a significant portion of the population will forget about what could have turned out to be the greatest corruption investigation in modern Turkish history. Meanwhile, the opposition – which have already turned Dec. 17/25 into an anti-corruption day to be marked in coming years – will make sure that the topic remains on the agenda.

Put another way, it does not look like Erdoğan and the AKP will have much peace in this regard, and will continue to carry the stigma of corruption. It seems they can run, but it is unlikely that they can hide. How long they can sustain this politically, given their plan to stay in power for years to come, remains an open question.