Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Twenty-Four Hours that changed Turkey…

…on the twenty-fifth of December. While perhaps it is still early to make such a bombastic statement, however there is no doubt that what we saw on this day is an historic turning point. For the first time, Turkish citizens and analysts alike are starting to imagine a Turkey without the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  
Turkey's opposition paper: Earthquake

The arrests on December 17 (see former blog) have thrown Turkey into a state of chaos, culminating in the resignation of three government Ministers on December 25. The first two resigning ministers have sons under arrest, linked to the probe; the powerful Interior Minister, M. Guler, and the Minister of Economic Affairs, Z. Caglayan, who is also accused of receiving a $350,000 watch as bribe. However, it was the resignation of Environment Minister, E. Bayraktar, that set off a massive political earthquake. Bayraktar, angry at the allegations and for being pressured to resign, called upon Erdogan to resign, stating that “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.”

Pro-goverment paper blames US, Israel, and Gulen group
Just hours after the resignations came the second political earthquake: news came in that a “Second Wave” arrests was about to take place. However, no time at all passed before rumors spread throughout the media and twitter waves that the police were refusing to carry out the prosecutor’s orders, which included the detainment of Erdogan’s son, Bilal, along with a whole list of key business figures.

The next day, late in the afternoon, news broke that the prosecutor of the “Second Wave,” had been removed from the case. According to the prosecutor, M. Akkas, “I learned that I was removed from my duty without any justification, while the search warrants, seizure [of materials] and arrest orders [were also taken from me]. The responsibility from now on falls with the Istanbul public prosecutor and his deputy. All of the public and my colleagues should know that my task as a prosecutor has been obstructed…”

Liberal Taraf paper claims "Second Wave" probe deals with
100 billion dollars
In the meantime, Erdogan, who just appointed a new cabinet in a "reshuffle" (a move planned ahead of probe in preparation of the March local elections and post-budget approval) has opted to stand strong against all accusations of corruption, blaming it on international conspiracy. Further, he even went so far to praise the main suspect of the “First Wave” of the corruption probe, Reza Zarrab, and is standing by the CEO of Halkank, who was allegedly found with shoe boxes of dollars stashed away in his home. In Erdogan’s words,“Zarrab exports gold and I know that he is involved in charity activities as well.” In others, if some thought he would throw Zarrab and his accused accomplices “under the bus,” at least for now that is far from the case.

In my last blog, I asked how long will AKP MPs be willing to put up with this circus; one major MP already resigned on December 25 (following the resignation of the ministers), Idris Naim Sahin; another MP, hinted to widespread corruption while handing over his post to the newly appointed minister after Erdogan relieved him from his position as minister in the “reshuffle.” Lastly, one AKP MP criticized the PM for appointing an Interior Minister who is not a MP. However, the fact that there is a stirring within the party, does not mean that we are anywhere near a group of AKP MPs abandoning Erdogan, in order to set up a new party within the parliament.

Nevertheless, if the state of affairs continue to deteriorate at the speed it has been during the last few days, it seems hard to imagine that his party members will remain silent. In the event they do not take matters into their hands, then Erdogan will need to face a growing chorus of opposition calling for his resignation, or at least, early elections, among the Turkish population at large.   For now, however, the ball is still in Erdogan's court, and he very well could come out on top if he plays his cards right.   

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