Three days after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in November 2002, I warned in Politiken, a Danish daily, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The background for the AKP’s electoral success was that it presented itself as the arbiter of clean (‘ak’) governance. The following July there was a lively debate in the Financial Times, when I claimed that the new Turkish government under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed the impression that it was “business as usual”.
Despite an avowed crackdown on corruption, an amnesty was passed to cover tax fraud. In spite of opposition from the IMF, the first steps were taken to render the public procurement law, which was intended to prevent corruption in state tenders, opaque. Erdoğan also reneged on an electoral promise to limit the scope of deputies’ immunity to their parliamentary actions.
Two years earlier, in an article for The Guardian on corruption in Turkey, I mentioned that the European Commission in its Pre-Accession Report had stated: “Investors need a stable, predictable and supportive legal and regulatory framework in order to make long-term investments.” This is still true today.
In June 2004, on the occasion of the NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkish Daily News published a special edition for the delegates. Among the great and the good (including the President and the Prime Minister), I was also invited to write on the relations between Turkey and the EU.
My contribution, Justified scepticism towards Turkey, was less than heartening. I
warned that Turkey’s greatest problem was its overburdened and often corrupt legal system, and concluded:
“There is evidence that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is trying to effect a stealthy Islamization of Turkey.”
In 2011, Naz Masraff, in her PhD thesis for the London School of Economics
on Turkey’s compliance with EU conditionality, concluded that the AKP had made strategic use of of EU conditionality to curb the powers of the Kemalist/secularist establishment.
That compliance helped the government to appear to the electorate as a Western, reformist, moderate and neo-liberal party, so as to widen its domestic support.
In 2012 Günter Seufert from SWP in Berlin wrote that EU membership had become less a goal in itself for the majority of Turks than an instrument to facilitate their country’s continued economic development.
Two years later, Koray Çalışkan in the Turkish daily Radikal explained why the AKP gave up on EU membership. The application was in reality a strategic step to send the army back to the barracks, and once the AKP had established hegemony in civil politics, it abandoned the EU process.
Nevertheless, as late as 2012, 16 EU foreign ministers proclaimed Turkey to be “an inspirational example of a secular and democratic country”. According to prominent Turkish journalist Sedat Ergin both the U.S. and the EU had bought the AKP’s narrative, and Erdoğan’s shift towards authoritarianism dawned on them too late.
Former German chancellor Angela Merkel, the architect of the EU’s constructive dialogue and positive agenda towards Turkey, was instrumental in the bloc’s capitulation. The U.S. has decided to follow suit, and last year launched “a strategic mechanism” to strengthen bilateral ties. The F-16 deal is intended as a sweetener.
Now, with the earthquake disaster in southeastern Turkey Erdoğan’s house of cards has collapsed. Former governor of Turkey’s Central Bank, Durmuş Yılmaz, has delivered a devastating critique of Erdoğan’s management, stating that “corruption and cronyism are eating the country away like cancer.” Even amid this desolation the lesson does not seem to have been learned.
Although only 5 percent of the collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaraş province were built in accordance with earthquake regulations, there has been a rush to capitalize on the situation. According to the Turkish daily Birgün, secret tenders for reconstruction have already been held, almost all to companies affiliated with the AKP.
There is also the question of culpability, as President Erdoğan has boasted that 144,556 citizens benefited from a construction amnesty in Kahramanmaraş.
Erdoğan has asked for forgiveness for the government’s failure to respond
immediately to the earthquakes. But as Ali Öztunç, opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy for Kahramanmaraş has said : “These things are all the result of incompetent and inefficient management. It is time to get rid of them and bring level-headed, capable and resourceful people to the administration.”
The views and opinions expressed above are those of the author(s) and do not reflect those of the Free Turkish Press.