Scandal Rocks Turkey
Turkey is a democracy in name only. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is ruling despot.
He's led Ankara's Justice and Development Party (AKP) since August 2001. He's been prime minister since March 2003. Why Turks put up with him they'll have to explain.
Last spring, anti-government protests rocked Ankara, Istanbul and other Turkish cities. Police violence followed. Brutality is longstanding policy. Corruption is deep-seated.
It's rife in Turkey's construction sector. Erdogan established a land sales office. Ostensibly it was to build affordable public housing.
Widespread privatizations followed. Billions of dollars worth of government assets were sold.
Sweetheart deals and bribes accompanied them. Well-connected companies got no-bid contracts. State banks provided generous financing.
Projects developed had nothing to do with public housing. Berat Albayrak heads Calik Holding. He's well connected. He's Erdogan's son-in-law.
He may be linked to the corruption probe. He builds power plants in Turkmenistan. He's involved in an AKP backed oil pipeline project. He has other government related business.
The current scandal stems from a year ago anonymous letter. It was sent to police. It alleged Ankara and local government authorities illegally facilitated construction projects. Huge profits were involved.
Surveillance, phone tapping, and other investigatory methods followed. They produced considerable evidence of corruption. Government ministers are involved. Million dollar bribes were paid.
State-run Halk Bank head was found with about $4.5 million in cash. It was at home. It was stashed in shoe boxes.
Millions more were seized from other suspects. Over a dozen are accused of bribery and money laundering, as well as gold and antiques smuggling.
On December 17, Turkey's Financial Crimes and Battle Against Criminal Incomes department detained 47 people.
Sons of Ankara's Economy, Interior and Environment and Urban Planning ministers are involved.
So is Fatih district municipality major Mustafa Demir and real estate tycoon Ali Agaoglu. Minister of European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis is being investigated.
Whether scandal touches Erdogan remains to be seen. He claims attempts to do so will be "left empty handed."
On Christmas day, he reshuffled his cabinet. Three ministers resigned. He sack 10 others. He replaced them. Events are fast-moving.
Erdogan Bayraktar was Minister of Environment and Urban Planning. He was a member of parliament. He felt forced to resign both posts.
He said Erdogan should do so. He claimed suspect construction projects under investigation were approved with Erdogan's full knowledge.
"With your permission, I want to make very short statements in the form of a press statement," he said.
"It is of course a right and an authority for Mr. Prime Minister to work with whichever minister he wants and to remove whichever minister he wants from office."
"But I do not accept the pressure being put on me which says, 'Resign because of an operation in which there are statements of bribery and corruption and release a declaration that will relieve me.' "
“I do not (accept it) because a big part of the zoning plans that are in the investigation file and were confirmed were made with approval from Mr. Prime Minister."
"For the sake of the well-being of this nation, I believe the prime minister should resign."
He accused him of involvement in suspect property deals. He's linked to profiteering business interests.
Scandal heads closer to directly connecting him. Perhaps it will as investigations continue. Turkish Professor Soli Ozel called Bayraktar's call for Erdogan's resignation "extraordinarily dramatic."
He's "someone who was very close to the prime minister. This is someone you'd expect to fall on his sword without question."
Other analysts see things potentially spinning out of control. Whether Erdogan can prevent it remains to be seen.
He may end up victimized by his own transgressions. It depends on how much public anger grows. He weathered previous crises. It's hard to know if this one is too great to contain.
Investigations targeted over 90 suspects. Over two dozen were arrested. Dozens of police chiefs were sacked. Erdogan is far from squeaky-clean.
On December 21, Ankara's police department Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Unit head Hakan Yuksekdag was found dead in his car. Officially it was pronounced suicide.
Further investigation is being conducted. The incident occurred a day after 14 senior Ankara National Police Department officials were removed from their posts.
Erdogan blamed ongoing events on an international conspiracy. He vowed revenge on figures connected to Muhammed Fethullah Gulen.
He heads the movement bearing his name. He claims a million or more followers. They include judges and senior police officials.
He's currently in self-imposed exile. He's in Pennsylvania. He's a writer, former imam, and Islamic opinion leader. He's an important figure.
He's involved with issues relating to Turkey's future. He and Erdogan haven't gotten along for years.
Former Minister of Internal Affairs Idris Naim Sahin said Erdogan's actions fall short of law and justice. He's trying to defuse public anger, he said. He's shifting blame to do it.
Thousands of Istanbul, Ankara, and Ismir protesters demanded Erdogan's resignation. They did so on Christmas. They did it in other cities. They protested last spring.
They're justifiably outraged. Their longstanding anger hasn't waned. Erdogan works against their well-being. Clashes with police erupted. Arrests followed.
Protesters chanted; "Three ministers aren't enough. The whole government should resign. Corruption is everywhere. Resistance is everywhere."
Opposition party members accused Erdogan of deepening despotic rule. Critics use the term "deep state." It refers to a shadowy power structure. It lacks checks and balances.
Turkey's Republican People's Party (CHP) is Erdogan's main rival. It's Turkey's oldest political party. It's AKP's Main Opposition in the Grand National Assembly. Kemal Kilicdaroglu heads it.
"Erdogan has a 'deep state,' " he said. His AKP "has a 'deep state.' " Efkan Ala is new Interior Minister.
He's an Erdogan crony. He formerly was Diyarbakir Province governor. He's part of what's ongoing, said Kilicdaroglu.
He believes Ala's appointment is part of an Erdogan power grab. He wants greater police control. Outgoing Interior Minister Muammer Guler fired hundreds of police officers. Senior commanders were sacked.
Erdogan's new ministers were carefully chosen. He appointed officials "that will not show any opposition to him," said Kilicdaroglu.
Turkey is more police state than democracy. Press freedom is compromised. Censorship is standard practice. Dissent is verboten. Challenging government authority is called terrorism.
No country imprisons more journalists than Turkey. Corruption is deep-seated. Neoliberal harshness writ large is policy. Popular interests are spurned.
Erdogan represents wealth, power and privilege. It's hard imagining he's not involved in corruption in some way. He's gotten his son-in-law business tycoon sweetheart deals.
He prioritizes Turkey's business model. It reflects capitalism's dark side. It includes unrestrained profit-making, privatizations, cheap labor, deregulation, corporate-friendly tax cuts, marginalized worker rights, and speculative capital inflows.
Economic conditions are inherently unstable. Turkey suffers rolling recessions, crisis conditions, and fragile largely jobless recoveries. It's increasingly dependent on imports of resources and capital goods.
Youth unemployment tops 22%. An entire generation is affected. Conditions are socially and economically unstable.
Privation fuels public anger. Eventually it may spiral out-of-control. It may be just a matter of time. Turkey has a long history of rebellion.
Erdogan is increasingly hated. He weathered last spring's anti-government protests. It remains to be seen what's next.
Nicolas Spiro heads Spiro Sovereign Strategy. "The dismissal of half an entire cabinet is worrying enough," he said. "The corruption probe is escalating by the day."
It's "causing a further deterioration in market sentiment towards Turkey." Erdogan's new cabinet includes four deputy prime ministers.
Ayse Islam is the only woman appointed. She's Family and Social Policy Minister. Others include:
Deputy prime minister: Bulent Arinc
Deputy prime minister: Ali Babacan
Deputy prime minister: Besir Atalay
Deputy prime minister: Emrullah Isler
Justice: Bekir Bozdag
Defense: Ismet Yilmaz
Interior: Efkan Ala
Foreign Affairs: Ahmet Davutoglu
European Union: Mevlut Cavusoglu
Finance: Mehmet Simsek
Economy: Nihat Zeybekci
Energy and Natural Resources: Taner Yildiz
National Education: Nabi Avci
Labour and Social Security: Faruk Celik
Environment and Urban Development: Idris Gulluce
Health: Mehmet Muezzinoglu
Transport: Lutfi Elvan
Food, Agriculture and Husbandry: Mehmet Mehdi Eker
Science, Industry and Technology: Fikri Isik
Culture and Tourism: Omer Celik
Forestry and Water Affairs: Veysel Eroglu
Customs and Trade: Hayati Yazici
Development: Cevdet Yilmaz
Youth and Sports: Akif Cagatay Kilic
Scandal erupted months ahead of next March's local elections. Parliamentary elections involving Erdogan are scheduled in 2015.
If held today, voters might oust him. It's way too early to know how they'll react in 2015. Istanbul-based Global Source Partners analyst Atilla Yesilada said ongoing events suggest Erdogan is losing control.
"Forced to act, (he) tried to get rid of his burdens," he said. "But this is a political crisis, and it is hard to tell how it will unfold. These investigations may expand in coming months."
Doing so perhaps may link Erdogan to deep-seated corruption. If so, he may be forced to resign. The fullness of time will tell.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book is titled "Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity."
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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