The summary dismissal of 350 police officers in Turkey by a government decree has complicated the crisis rocking Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. The administration has been lashed by a corruption scandal that has shaken the foundations of his administration as members of his government were found bogged by the graft mire. Erdogan was forced to rejig his cabinet recently after three ministers resigned following the arrest of their sons.
The AKP leader, largely considered conservative, has since last year found himself to be at the receiving end of public outrage since huge protests erupted in Istanbul last year. The Rezi Park demonstrations became the leitmotif of an increasingly dissatisfied youth, a phenomenon which underscored the fact that the economic success achieved by Turkey did not preclude the longing for greater freedom. The park protests were seen as an extension of what was going on in the larger Middle East — a movement to replace autocratic rulers with elected governments.
The decree to remove the police officers and reassign others to traffic and other less significant positions is being seen as the government’s way of getting even with people involved in the corruption inquiry.
The graft scandal brought to light alleged bribery in the allocation of public tenders including controversial building projects in Istanbul.
The current crisis in Turkey has a muti-faceted character. The army, kept confined to its barracks for the last few years, may have been itching to make its present felt, howsoever meekly.
It is believed that Erdogan’s travails emerge from a feud with Fethullah Gulen, an influential Islamic scholar living in self-imposed exile in the US. The Gulen movement is devoid of a strong structural network but its followers command a strong influence and are said to number in millions.
Erdogan has gone on record to say that the judiciary is out to launch a smear campaign against his government. Gulen’s followers are said to be strong in the judiciary and administration.
After the scandal broke out on December 17, the Turkish army has tried to assert itself. The generals have asked for the retrial of hundreds of officers jailed for plotting a coup against the government. Though the Turkish Army — an assertively secular establishment — and Erdogan were sworn enemies, the crisis apparently shows the two sides coming closer.
Erdogan’s troubles — from the Rezi Park protests to the corruption scandal — are a sign of certain weak links inside the government. The situation shows that Turkey’s democracy has not matured to an extent where institutions of the state evolve to find themselves deeply entrenched in the system of government so that it is hard to shake them•