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Defying scandal

Senada Sokollu / cmkMarch 21, 2014

The Turkish political scandals of the last few months have many anticipating the municipal election on March 30. But the risk that Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP party will lose the election appears low.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Image: picture-alliance/AP

As Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces his worst political crisis ever, the Turkish people are preparing for municipal elections on March 30. Ever since the Gezi Park protests began last May, demonstrators have taken to the streets on an almost weekly basis to protest against Erdogan and his ruling AKP party. They have called for the government's resignation, and some no longer recognize Erdogan as the country's legitimate leader.

For his critics, the reasons are obvious: one political scandal has followed the other. A public corruption scandal which came to light on December 17 got the ball rolling. On that day, a number of high-ranking politicians, business leaders and sons of political ministers were arrested and accused of bribery, illegal gold transactions with Iran and of profiting from illegal construction projects. Erdogan reacted by forcing out judges, prosecutors and police officers.

Scandal follows scandal

former Interior Minister Muammer Guler
Guler and his son have allegedly been involved in illegal business transactionsImage: imago stock&people

In February, the scandals began piling up as a number of recorded phone calls were published online. In one, former Interior Minister Muammer Guler, who was replaced in December after his son was detained as part of the corruption investigation, can allegedly be heard speaking with his son.

The recording is said to be proof that Guler and his son were involved in illegal business transactions with Iranian businessman Reza Zerrab, one of the main suspects of the corruption investigation. The phone call is said to have taken place on the morning of December 17, but Guler continues to deny the authenticity of the recording.

The situation became even more precarious when Erdogan was publicly linked with the corruption scandal. For weeks, alleged wiretapped conversations between the Turkish leader and his son have been circulating on YouTube, the most controversial surfacing on February 24. In the recording, Erdogan is said to have urged his son Bilal to hide huge sums of money on December 17.

Erdogan has dismissed all allegations, calling the recordings a "fabrication." The Turkish leader has repeatedly stressed that a so-called "parallel state," controlled by the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, has had a hand in the deception. Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan, is said to have increased the number of his followers in Turkey in recent years, thereby considerably increasing his influence in the judiciary and police.

New recordings released

The latest wiretapped conversation to hit YouTube this week supposedly features Egemen Bagis, Erdogan's closest confidant and until the end of last year, Turkey's EU affairs minister. In the recording, Bagis is said to have spoken with journalist Metehan Demir.

Symbolbild Libanon Mitarbeiter von Turkish Airlines entführt
The latest recording has caused a scandal for both Turkish Airlines and ErdoganImage: Bülent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Bagis is known for publishing a religious saying on Twitter every Friday at morning prayer. In the phone call, Demir is supposedly heard accusing Bagis of copying these religious sayings from a prayer book. Bagis apparently denies it, telling Demir that these sayings can be found in a Google search. Later, the two men are allegedly heard making fun of the Arabic language. The mockery of the religious verses has caused a stir in Turkey, especially with the ruling Islamic conservative AKP party placing a heavy focus on its Muslim faith in its politics.

The latest recording, published on Tuesday (18.03.2014) on Twitter, has caused a furor. The recording purportedly featured a conversation between a senior employee of Turkish Airlines and one of Erdogan's advisers.

"Lots of material is on its way to Nigeria right now. Is it going to kill Muslims or Christians? I am sinning right now, you should know," a voice, said to be that of the airline official, says. The airline has rejected the allegations of being involved in illegal arms shipments, stressing that it was only transporting weapons and military equipment in line with international laws and International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulations.

'The AKP will not lose the election'

Emre Gönen
Gonen doesn't think Erdogan and the AKP party will suffer at the pollsImage: Senada Sokollu

After all the scandals surrounding the AKP government, the upcoming municipal election is seen less as a vote by government critics and more of a test. The main opposition party CHP has called the vote a race between "haram" and "halal"; under Islamic law, everything designated haram is prohibited, while that which is halal is permitted.

Among the general population, the mood is mixed. Former anti-government Gezi Park protesters appear unsure. "Every government is corrupt, in a way. Erdogan and his AKP party have brought the Turkish economy so far forward. I don't know who else to vote for. Maybe I just won't vote," said a 35-year-old former protester, speaking with DW.

Emre Gonen, a political scientist at the European Institute at Istanbul's Bilgi University, believes the AKP has a good chance of winning the election. Gonen told DW that the scandals will not really affect the election results, adding that although the AKP could lose some support the scandals "will not make the party lose the election."

In the last decade, said Gonen, Turkey has benefited from economic, social and political stability. Over the last 30 years, he said the country has seen turmoil, attempts at military coups and the presence of the military in civilian politics. "All this has been gradually solved within the AKP government period, and that has created a deep sense of confidence among the voters," he said.

Despite the current domestic problems, Gonen said the AKP still has at least 40 percent support in the polls. "Forty percent is an enormous support in any given democracy today. It will definitely require a dependable alternative political force to make the AKP go back into the opposition," he said. And in Turkey, that is currently nowhere in sight.