Friday, February 28, 2014

Where do you stand in post-military Turkish politics?

My favorite counter-factual thought experiment is speculating on the different directions that political institutionalization in Turkey might have taken, if the 1960 coup did not take place. If the military intervention in 1960 did not happen, and the 1961 elections took place with Menderes' DP and İnönü's CHP competing for office, would DP lose the elections and leave office peacefully? I imagine a late-20th century Turkey where the military would have already accepted independent civilian control and would have no interest in toppling down popularly elected governments. Obviously, the 1960 coup was not just a historical mishap. The Ottoman political/military structure, the Unionist legacy of the 1910s, and the crucial roles the military played in the national independence war and the establishment of the Republic were undoubtedly determinant in shaping the interventionist Turkish military in the Republican era. Nevertheless, I indulge myself in political fantasy, imagining a different scenario where the military was held off just another year until the elections in 1961. Perhaps, that first fatal coup, which further entrenched the interventionist military would be avoided and a successful transfer of power through elections would foster a more democratic institutional framework in Turkey.

I started with this counter-factual thought experiment, because thanks to the interventionist Turkish military, I did not have any problems in situating myself in Turkish politics until recently. I was anti-military, period. In my opinion, the military had to be opposed because due to the military's restrictions, (which were simply internalized by almost all the political actors), on the political arena, real and meaningful political issues were simply taboo. For the military, the Alevi, the Kurd, and the Islamist were threats, and consequently, they could not legitimately exist in the political arena. For me, this was first and foremost the most important political issue that defined my political stance in 1990s and 2000s. One of the successes of the long AKP rule was kicking military out of politics and forcing it to accept civilian control. In a world where the military is not the obvious target, where do I stand? I have always identified myself as someone on the left and as a democrat. However, in post-military Turkey, where do I stand? I ask this question not because I am having doubts about my political allegiances. On the contrary, in this livelier political arena, I hold onto my values and visions for the future even more strongly and confidently. However, when the military withdrew, the political arena significantly expanded. In their rush to fill this arena, political actors muddied the waters to such an extent that it has almost become impossible to safely land your feet. In this post, I will try to describe these muddy waters, and will reiterate my question: In a political arena that is in almost complete chaos, how (and where) do you stand firm?

In the preceding paragraph, I mentioned AKP's effective elimination of the military from the political arena. AKP stood firm while the courts were going after those military leaders who allegedly conspired to overthrow AKP with a coup. Through fashionably titled cases such as Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer), many military figures (including former Chief of Staff İlker Başbuğ) were convicted and imprisoned in 2012. We can arguably consider these cases as the first instance where waters started to get muddier. Ergenekon and Balyoz were landmark events where the big boss, i.e. military, was prosecuted and discredited. However, as many similar examples would follow later, these cases did not run smoothly and transparently. Many would argue that there was clear evidence for a criminal investigation but prosecution eventually approached persecution. Through leaked evidence to the media, the suspects were publicly humiliated and discredited.

The same method of public humiliation through leaked evidence was used in the Fenerbahçe match-fixing case. Fenerbahçe won the Turkish Süper Lig, after a very competitive season in the 2010-2011 season. I am an ardent Fenerbahçe fan and had watched all the games in the second part of that season. It was a very close call and I was very proud when we were the champions at the end. In July 2011, the police started an operation, simultaneously leaking recorded phone-tappings to the press. Fenerbahçe president Aziz Yıldırım, and some other high-profile figures from various teams across the country, were accused of match-fixing. Aziz Yıldırım was arrested and imprisoned. Fenerbahçe was not allowed to participate in European championships in 2011-2012, and was eventually banned for two more years. My initial reaction to the accusations, especially after listening to the leaked tapes, was deep hatred towards Aziz Yıldırım and his cronies who embarrassed Fenerbahçe. I wanted those responsible to get punished. I saw the match-fixing case as a platform to cleanse Turkish soccer from corruption with zero-tolerance. However, the investigation and prosecution faltered very similar to the military trials, and left me wondering whether I was too hasty in condemning Aziz Yıldırım. The controversy still continues as Aziz Yıldırım was eventually released. He sustains that he was persecuted with leaked tapes and that there was no real basis to the case. Since his release, he became a more influential public figure, mustering tremendous public support for himself and Fenerbahçe. Two weeks ago on a match day, approximately 500,000 people marched in protest on Baghdad Street, from Bostancı to the stadium at Kızıltoprak

Thinking back on both cases (the military and Fenerbahçe), I feel manipulated. Both of my desires, ending military rule and cleansing Turkish football were quite professionally manipulated. Leaked evidence was used as a tool to publicly condemn those suspects before they even appeared in court. It is not that I believe there is no substance to the allegations and accusations. However, the public support created by leaked evidence enabled the prosecution to catapult these criminal cases to witch hunts. The moral high ground of public prosecution, doubled with an extremely negative public opinion against the suspects, simply gave a free hand to the courts in dealing punishment. I have practically no sympathy for the military leaders or for Aziz Yıldırım, and I believe there very well might be reasons for them to be punished. However, the ways in which these cases unfolded, appear as a reincarnation of public lynchings in mass society.

It is quite impossible to prove, but it is widely agreed that members of the Fethullah Gülen movement, who were strategically positioned in the judiciary and the police, worked together with the government in these high-profile cases. It was this cooperation that enabled establishing civilian control over the military. However, this cooperation ended a few months ago and Cemaat and AKP engaged in a bloody battle with each other. This was a terrible blow to AKP which was heavily bruised after the popular Gezi protests in the summer. The leaked tapes of top AKP figures and Erdoğan himself emerged when he was already being criticized for increased authoritarianism. AKP's strong reaction to the tapes was widely perceived as even more authoritarian, and they seemed to fuel anti-Erdoğan feelings even further.

The followers of this blog would know that I was positively surprised and energized with the Gezi protests. Moreover, I was forced to re-evaluate my stance on Erdoğan and AKP, especially after Erdoğan's increasingly arrogant and authoritarian behavior. I would be very happy to see the end of AKP. As I discussed in my previous post, I have no doubts about AKP's involvement in corruption. On the other hand, I have no illusions about AKP's own involvement in the previous cases against the military and Fenerbahçe. Consequently, I have little sympathy when AKP speakers remind everyone of presumption of innocence. I just want to offer an evil laugh when I hear them complain about the police for leaking evidence to the media. Despite all these, I would like to approach the case of AKP's leaked tapes with lessons learnt from the previous experiences. The pattern is too familiar to miss: Early morning police raids, leaked evidence to the media, etc... Where do I stand in these muddy waters? As I said, I do not find it in me to defend AKP when I strongly believe that they are buried deep in corruption. However, I cannot endorse these means to get rid of AKP.

Let's rid ourselves of all pretense. High-profile cases such as Ergenekon, Balyoz, Fenerbahçe match-fixing, and December 17 corruption are all political cases. We cannot expect the courts to act as if there were no political consequences to their verdicts. The results of these cases were bound to depend on mobilization outside the courts. In other words, had the military and its constituency mobilized better during the trials, they could have received a more favorable outcome. Publicized police raids and leaked evidence to the media took place to pre-empt such mobilization. The now-familiar scenario was put in motion to silence the pro-military constituency even before they mobilized. Faced with seemingly overwhelming evidence in the media following police operations and arrests, even the most ardent defenders of the military preferred to keep a low profile for a while. We could safely argue the same for Fenerbahçe and Aziz Yıldırım. Please let me underline this again: I am not saying that the military leaders or Aziz Yıldırım were guilty or innocent. I argue that these trials were political at the outset. Recognizing this plain fact, AKP and their allies in bureaucracy, leaked evidence in the media to preempt their opponents' mobilization.

What we see in the case of AKP and corruption is exactly the same. The only difference is that AKP is now the victim. Regardless of AKP's involvement in corruption, the police raids, arrests, and leaked tapes are preparations for a future case. These leaked tapes are a mobilization effort for a future corruption trial (as well as a stab at AKP's popularity in forthcoming elections.) Now, where do I stand in these muddy waters? I started this post with a counter-factual about imagining how differently political institutions would evolve if the 1960 coup were not to happen. This was obviously a conscious choice. I prefer to analyze politics through the development of institutions in a specific country. Then, I believe the answer to my question has to start from political institutions. Upon military's controversial departure from active politics in Turkey, what kind of political institutions filled the void?

As the discussion of these high-profile cases demonstrate, the judiciary emerged as the main political institution that determined the fate of politics in Turkey upon the military's departure. It is not a coincidence that all major political battles were fought at the court or about the court in the past decade. Some examples besides those discussed would be the Constitutional Court's 367 decision, and the recent spat over HSYK (High Council of Judges and Prosecutors). I will go so far as to argue that devoid of military's limiting but defining and legitimizing existence in politics, political actors sought a similar authority in the courts. The courts became a new arbiter in politics. We could have welcomed this development, had the political actors recognized the courts' independence. However, as my discussion of  televised police raids and leaked evidence to the media shows, the legal battles were fought with incredible ferocity that significantly reduced confidence in the rule of law. When police officers and prosecutors themselves were involved in violating the presumption of innocence, trust in the legal system inevitably dissipated. Moreover, political actors did not hesitate in colonizing the judiciary. It is widely believed that the Gülen movement has many supporters within the police and the justice system. Similarly, with recent legal changes, the AKP government unabashedly showed an effort in controlling various parts of the judiciary. In short, the most important component of our post-military institutional structure is a colonized judiciary where legal battles are fought with no respect to the rule of law.

So, here we come back to the initial question: Where do I stand in this mess? I simply do not endorse televised police raids and leaked evidence that violate the presumption of innocence. I hesitantly welcome evidence of AKP's involvement in corruption but I do not hold very high hopes for the near future when a decent trial seems simply impossible. I am deeply worried about the possibility of toppling down a democratically-elected government through leaked tapes, even though I have become very wary of that government that is becoming more authoritarian everyday. I am even more worried about a future where any government that would replace AKP would be compelled to cooperate with a force that is entrenched in the bureaucracy and can topple governments with its leaked tapes. It appears, there are no easy answers in post-military Turkish politics.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Corruption and AKP

AKP's acronym stands for Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, i.e. Justice and Development Party. For years, the leaders of the party preferred using AK Parti. As you might know, "ak" means "white" in Turkish. The obvious reference in "AK Parti" was to cleanliness, transparency and innocence. In essence, the party climbed to power in the wake of many corruption scandals which marginalized mainstream parties such as ANAP and DYP in the 1990s. Fast forward a decade or so, and many AKP leaders, including Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself, are now facing allegations of corruption through leaked tapes of phone-tapping.

The first wave of these tapes emerged on December 17, 2013, when many high profile figures were taken into custody by the police for interrogation. These figures included the sons of three ministers in the cabinet, an Azeri business tycoon, and the CEO of a state of owned bank. The police had recovered millions of Turkish Liras and foreign currency hidden in some of the apartments.

I might try to provide a full chronological account of what happened since December 17 in a later post, but the government simply identified the allegations of corruption, the leaked tapes, and the police operation as yet another attempt at forcefully removing AKP from power - a coup. This time, the attacking power was neither the "military," nor the "deep state." It was the "parallel state." Erdoğan and other AKP leaders identified the Fethullah Gülen movement (an Islam-inspired movement, also called Cemaat or the Hizmet movement) as the parallel state which allegedly controlled key nodes in the police and judiciary. Cemaat and AKP had cooperated since the latter's establishment in 2001. For reasons yet to be found out, the cooperation ended in late 2013 and AKP and Cemaat went for each other's throat. AKP leaders tried to discredit the tapes and police operations by arguing that the "timing was meaningful." In their argumentation, the prosecutors and the police of the Cemaat accumulated tapes and cases against prominent AKP figures over time to circulate them at the most suitable time when it would hurt the most.

The AKP government reacted swiftly against the police and the prosecutors. Hundreds of police chiefs and officers were removed from office over the following weeks. Eventually those prosecutors who were in charge of the corruption case were reassigned as well. After these removals, there simply was no hope left for a decent investigation, prosecution and trial. Turkish political arena is familiar to instrumental exploitation of the law, but not to such blatant disregard of the law by those in power. I would like to come back to this topic in later posts, but today I want to talk about AKP's rapid burial under allegations of corruption, despite its legislative strength and executive power, which successfully evades judicial control for the moment. How could AKP sink under such allegations when they appeared most powerful?

The answer lies in two main institutional factors: 1) AKP motto that prioritizes "getting things done" and "providing services"; and 2) Increased personification of AKP under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

1) Before forming the AKP and becoming the prime minister, Erdoğan had served as the mayor of Istanbul for many years in 1990s. He was renowned for getting Istanbul in order and providing many services which were neglected before him. As the mayor, he fixed the problems with garbage collection and improved public transportation among other issues. It is my belief that Erdoğan approached the governance of Turkey with a similar mindset. Within this frame of mind, Turkey faced important infrastructural deficiencies and Erdoğan would fix these issues. It is not a coincidence that the main item in AKP's developmental agenda had always been construction: Construction of roads, bridges, houses, etc... Recently, the AKP government has been adamant about building a third bridge over the Bosphorus. Another important (crazy?) project under discussion has been to open a second canal to the west of Istanbul that would mimic the Bosphorus... One of the key new official agencies in this construction oriented framework was TOKİ (Housing Development Administration), which has been operating in almost every urban center and beyond to build new large residential neighborhoods.

I am sure many citizens approve these developmental projects which turned Turkey into one large construction site over the last decade. Here, I do not want to discuss and evaluate the costs and benefits of a developmental agenda that prioritizes construction beyond anything else. However, it is a fact that such an endeavor fosters a colossal construction and real estate market. It also requires readjustment of city plans to accommodate these new roads, bridges, and neighborhoods. It requires destruction of old neighborhoods and relocation of many residents. I think it is at this critical juncture where the seeds of AKP's burial under allegations of corruption were sown.

In its haste to "develop" Turkey through construction, AKP wanted to "get things done" quickly. Judicial controls, legal requirements, and local assemblies were hurdles in AKP's path to development and modernization. In AKP's view, courts were throwing away valuable projects, and legal requirements were causing delays in important projects. I strongly believe that AKP institutionalized extralegal practices over the years to cut corners short. In their bid to "provide better services," AKP oversaw the crystallization of a collective ethos within its own ranks that sacrificed the law in exchange for rapid progress. We can come up with many examples but I will suffice here with a new case I read in my friend Tuna's forthcoming article on privatization of Sümerbank factories and lands across the country.

The Sümerbank (a state-owned textile factory) in Malatya, which was situated on 129 thousand square meters, was privatized in 2004. A conglomerate of local firms had bid and bought the factory and its premises. As had been the case for such acts of privatization in industrial zones, the factory was soon demolished and plans for building a shopping mall were underway simultaneously with a zoning change that turned the area into a commercial zone. In exchange for the zone change, a part of the land was given to the Municipality as the site of the new municipal building, (which is now operational,) free of charge! In addition to the shopping mall, which has been a huge success, new plans have been underway to build a private hospital, a five-star Hilton hotel, and a large mosque on the rest of the land.

This is a perfect AKP win-win scenario: i) A formerly inefficient factory was reintroduced into urban space with no cost to the public; ii) A new municipal building was built with almost no cost to the public; iii) With a new hospital, hotel, and mosque, a livelier urban space and economy was promoted with no cost to the public. I will not delve into the topic of lost jobs at the old Sümerbank factory, or the alternative ways in which that land could have been utilized, or the extra income that the dubious privatization could have provided if the factory land were declared as a commercial zone at the outset. Such routes would simply fail to achieve rapid urban development that the AKP leadership adamantly seeks. Here, I am interested in that collective ethos that seriously perceives this particular path of urban development as successful municipal service. In an ideal type AKP privatization of a public asset, the public would be appeased with no-cost urban development, businesses would thrive with favorable land sales or zone-changes, and those happy businesses would grace the public with donations or would renovate public buildings for free. Within this conception, which prioritizes fast-paced construction at the expense of the law, lies the roots of institutionalized corruption that now bogs AKP down. Because, this type of extralegal actions could (and did) easily degenerate. (I call these actions extralegal not because they defy the law, but because they defy a certain sense of right and justice. To be honest, zoning changes and public donations appear legal on paper. However, it is also clear that they are motivated by favoritism.)

2) So far, I have assumed that AKP was motivated by doing good, i.e. "getting things done" and "providing services." I will not succumb to the assumption of evilness that AKP members have always been corrupt. I just do not believe that large bodies of people happen to be bad. Instead, we have to search for institutional structures that condition them to act in such ways. As I argued, AKP's particular conception of rapid urban development set the stage for an ethos of extralegal activities. However, how could the entire party (including its almighty pious leader) get involved in corruption? There still seems to be a huge gap between doing business in murky extralegal terrain and outright corruption, especially within a party whose basis of foundation was being clean and transparent. I believe the answer lies within increased personification of AKP under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. As a consequence, AKP failed to develop necessary institutional intra-party mechanisms to combat and prevent corruption within ranks.

Over the years, AKP increasingly became a one-man party. Especially since the 2011 elections, AKP representatives have been hesitant about making definitive comments on key issues that fall outside the boundaries of their immediate roles. Erdoğan has increasingly become the sole authoritative voice of the party. His recent conflicts with Bülent Arınç, the spokesperson of the cabinet and an important senior member of the AKP movement, portray the rising tensions within AKP over Erdoğan's authoritarian tendencies.

Erdoğan's increased control over the party is reminiscent of mid-20th century corporatist regimes around the world, where a single leader had represented the entire constituency through a vertically organized party structure. This single-man rule is naturally very jealous in sharing power. Political advancement within ranks is based on winning the favor of the leader. Then, it is not a coincidence that Erdoğan preferred to appoint a significant number of his old friends (for example, İdris Naim Şahin and Erdoğan Bayraktar) to crucial posts in the cabinet over the years. Erdoğan's personal trust mattered the most.

I do not believe AKP was destined to follow this corporatist route. As Jenny White (2002) described in her important study, Islamist Mobilization in Turkey: A Study in Vernacular Politics, AKP started out with a very active grasroots organization. This momentum could have formed the basis of a more participatory and accountable party structure that would enable more local participation within the party leadership. However, increased idolization and deification of Erdoğan did not allow the AKP to develop institutions, which would provide natural checks on abuse of authority. Increasingly, local AKP leaders felt accountable only to Erdoğan, but not to their own constituencies. I believe that the lack of institutional checks on local and national AKP leaders enabled the descent from extralegality to corruption.

Erdoğan's governing style i) that perceived Turkey as one big municipality; ii) that anchored development in rapid urban construction projects at the expense of the law; iii) and that relied on personal networks of trust and friendship resulted in the simple impossibility of personally overseeing the transfers of huge sums of money. Getting public projects done for free eventually degenerated into collecting funds for the party, which degenerated into taking bribes. Simply, this is why democracies rely on judicial control and legal regulations to oversee such expenditures. When the law is overthrown to cut corners short, and alternative disciplinary mechanisms are not employed, corruption ensues. In Turkey, Erdoğan and AKP are now buried under it.