The far-reaching corruption and bribery investigation that has shaken the country for several weeks has not only allegedly revealed some senior authorities’ hand in irregularities but has also shown that Turkey is unfamiliar with a tradition: resignation.
Despite unceasing calls from the opposition parties and critics, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — along with several other government officials — seems determined to keep his seat. The calls for resignation gained momentum last week, after the Feb. 24 emergence of an audio recording that allegedly features the voice of Erdoğan ordering his son, Bilal, to dispose of vast amounts of cash — as much as $1 billion, according to claims. In the recording — the authenticity of which has not yet been verified — Erdoğan is seemingly heard telling his son to “zero” large sums of money hidden in several relatives’ homes on Dec. 17, 2013, the day police raided a number of locations in the first stage of a broad investigation. The prime minister allegedly asks his son to get rid of the money by distributing it among several businessmen.
The recording sent shockwaves across the country, with many calling on the prime minister to step down and account for the corruption allegations.
Prime Minister Erdoğan denied the authenticity of the recording, arguing that it was fabricated and he vowed to take legal action against the perpetrators.
On the evening of Feb. 24, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) held an emergency meeting and party spokesman Haluk Koç called on the government to resign, arguing that the prime minister’s government has lost its legitimacy. The party’s chairman, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, made a similar call, saying, “We can no longer call him [Erdoğan] a prime minister. The legitimacy of this government has ended. A liar and a thief cannot serve as a prime minister,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, calling on Erdoğan to leave his position. “Either get on a helicopter and flee the country or resign from your post as the prime minister. A man who robs the state cannot sit in the chair of the prime minister,” he added.
CHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Akif Hamzaçebi, told Sunday’s Zaman that being willing to resign is a virtue and politicians who refuse to quit their posts despite serious allegations leveled against them lack this virtue. “A politician who has reached democratic maturity would resign on his own [without receiving calls to that end] if he faced such serious accusations [of corruption.] This [resignation] is a mechanism that functions only in democratic countries. It does not function in our country,” he noted.
Hamzaçebi also said the prime minister should have announced his resignation immediately after the initial claims that he and his government members were involved in corruption. “He did not resign then. But now, as the claims have grown more serious [with the latest audio recording], we are calling on the prime minister to step down. But it seems that he is not planning to resign. Put aside resigning, he is using all his power to bury the corruption claims,” he added.
On Dec. 17, 2013, İstanbul and Ankara police staged dawn raids and detained over 50 people as part of a major investigation of corruption and bribery. Among the detainees were bureaucrats, well-known businesspeople and the sons of three ministers. Allegations that several ministers were also implicated in bribery arose. The suspects are accused of rigging state tenders, accepting and facilitating bribes for major urbanization projects, obtaining construction permits for protected land areas in exchange for money, helping foreigners to obtain Turkish citizenship through falsified documents, involvement in export fraud, forgery of documents and gold smuggling.
Unlike in Western democracies, it is rare to see a Turkish politician leave his seat in the face of allegations of inappropriate behavior.
Roughly one week after the corruption investigation became public, allegedly having been asked by the prime minister to do so, three Cabinet ministers whose sons were detained on accusations of corruption and bribery as well as one other minister who allegedly received bribes, announced their resignations. Calls for the prime minister to do the same have so far gone unanswered.
Former CHP leader Deniz Baykal resigned in 2010 after a video clip posted online that allegedly showed him intimately involved with a party deputy. The resignation came after mounting calls from the party’s membership and supporters for the leader to step down in the aftermath of a scandal that they defined as “immoral.”
Following the appearance of the audio recording that allegedly features the voices of the prime minister and his son, the executive board of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) also held an emergency meeting on Feb. 24. In a written statement, the party chairman Devlet Bahçeli called the recording “mind-blowing” and urged top prosecutors and other judicial bodies to launch an investigation of the prime minister. He also said the government had lost its legitimacy.
“The end for Prime Minister Erdoğan has become visible,” said Bahçeli and he added: “The judiciary should spring into action. The esteemed chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals cannot just sit in his chair. He cannot turn a deaf ear to so many claims and words circulating [about the prime minister’s role in corruption]. Even if the prime minister covers up all those claims, the chief prosecutor should assign other prosecutors to launch an investigation [of the prime minister].”
MHP deputy chairman Oktay Öztürk believes that only democratic politicians struggle for the improvement of democracy and they resign when necessary, as they consider resignation part of democratic maturity. “The AK Party is using democratic gains to bury claims of corruption and other irregularities they are involved in. However, democracy is not a regime that allows politicians to participate in corruption or cover up claims of corruption,” he told Sunday’s Zaman.
According to Öztürk, no politician in any country can act recklessly when claims that suggest involvement in corruption and fraud emerge. “Beyond being an indicator of a lack of a democratic virtue and maturity, this recklessness [of the Turkish prime minister] may be an indicator of the enormity of the wrongdoing the government wants to sweep under the carpet. Maybe they [members of the government] seek to protect themselves thanks to the power of the government positions they hold. They are apparently covered in filth they cannot account for. This is what underlies their recklessness,” he added.
Retired prosecutor Gültekin Avcı also believes that the prime minister should resign in the face of the growing corruption scandal. In a column he wrote for the Bugün daily last week, Avcı said if the crimes allegedly committed by the Turkish government revealed since Dec. 17, 2013 were distributed equally among all democratic countries in the world, there wouldn’t be a prime minister or government in any of those countries who would not resign.
“For instance, threatening prosecutor Muammer Akkaş [one of the three prosecutors who launched the current government corruption probe] and asking him “Whose man are you?” is enough for the prime minister in a democratic country to suffer from a loss of prestige and make him resign. That is how the system works in a normal democratic country,” Avcı wrote.