Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing one of the biggest crises since coming to power with a corruption scandal savaging his government and sparking street protests. The prime minister has blamed foreign forces for his woes, calling the crisis the result of a huge conspiracy against him, but whether his allegations are true or not, this is a quagmire he will have to face alone, and how he emerges out of it will decide his future in Turkish politics. The unfolding scandal has already done significant political damage to Erdogan who has been in power more than a decade and is widely considered a likely candidate in next summer’s presidential election. The economy too is paying a heavy price, with Turkish lira hit hard and stock markets plunging.
The corruption scandal involves sons of ministers and is edging ever closer to the prime minister. The investigation has targeted leading businessmen and officials as well as the head of the state bank, all said to be engaged in corrupt practices, bribery, rigging of tenders and illicit money transfers. Three cabinet ministers have been forced to resign after their sons were detained as part of the investigation. The case has sent shockwaves throughout the country and yesterday three MPs of the ruling Justice and Development party resigned from their party in protest at the suggestion that the government had been hindering investigations.
Calls are intensifying for Erdogan to resign, with both opponents and supporters of the prime minister taking to the streets. The scandal has come as a huge opportunity for the secular opposition which has an inimical relationship with the prime minister. With the crisis showing no signs of abatement, and in fact acquiring new dimensions, Erdogan will have to prove his innocence.
It’s unfair to target Erdogan if he is innocent. But the onus is on him to prove his innocence. The government must conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the whole scandal and punish the guilty, however well-connected they are.
In Turkey’s turbulent politics, the divide between the prime minister and his opponents has been widening. Such hostility is not good for democracy, and can create huge law and order problems. There is a need for both sides to adopt a stance of reconciliation. Differences, whether ideological or political, can be retained, but they should not cross the boundaries of decency and public order. It’s also true that a rupture in Erdogan’s relations with the West has contributed to the current woes. The Western media tends to follow the policies of their government on Erdogan, and their reports have the potential to inflame passions on the streets•