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December 08, 2011, Thursday

The AK Party’s match-fixing test

For the first time since it came to power, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has come to a serious fork in the road. Due to a certain law, it is faced with an historic test. Let me explain briefly and objectively, without delving into opinions, and thoughts on who is right and who is wrong.

Law No. 6222 on the Prevention of Violence and Irregularities in Sports was accepted by Parliament and put into force on April 14, 2011. Following the implementation of the law, investigations into match rigging and organized crime began shortly thereafter. The presidents and directors of football club, as well as some players themselves, were arrested and questioned. This in turn elicited strong and negative reactions from the football world. Directors of various football clubs came together under the auspices of certain political parties, and many of these political parties received visits from high-ranking officials of the football world. Talk of the severity of the penalties, as well as the possible financial repercussions from the various blows dealt to the football world and to televised matches, began to circulate.

Then suddenly something strange happened. Four parties, previously unable to agree on any of the topics so critical for Turkey's future, agreed to change the law that they had supported only seven months prior. And the changes were accepted, which included reductions to prison sentences for certain specific crimes, the transformation of some prison sentences into monetary fines and a change in the courts set to be hearing these cases. Thus, these same four parties, unable to come to any compromise on the drafting of a new constitution, were able to give off the image of almost heart-tugging unity and togetherness.

But at the same time, negative reactions to all this began to pour in. It was discomforting for many to see that the same party, which had stood so strong when it came to coup attempts, appeared to be bowing to pressure from the football world. In fact, many AK Party deputies themselves were extremely displeased with the situation. Here they were, ineptly making changes to a law they had turned out, with an air of experience, just seven months prior.

Not only this, but there were other matters as well, ones brought to the fore by AK Party Gaziantep deputy Şamil Tayyar. In fact, Tayyar wrote a letter to the president, calling on him to veto the amendments to the law. In his letter, Tayyar said: “I should make it quite clear that Parliament fell in defeat to the Ergenekon of sports, to the dukedom of İstanbul and to the sports mafia. I would like to apologize, as a deputy, to all of Turkey.”

When the law finally arrived at the Çankaya presidential palace for a decision, public pressure for a veto increased, and objections did, too. President Abdullah Gül noted openly his discomfort at the changes made.

In the meantime, something else happened; both AK Party Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç made statements signaling a green light for the president's veto. “Our president is the notary of neither our government nor our Parliament,” Çelik said. As for Bülent Arınç, he said he was pleased to hear of the president's hesitation to veto and that changes to the law would neither be fitting nor appropriate to the situation. These statements were shortly followed by a presidential veto.

Now the situation at hand is really strange. AK Party deputies, following of course, orders from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, say that the law must be introduced again, exactly as it was before. At the same time, the deputy prime minister is challenging those around him, saying “there is no deputy who would have the courage to bring this law again to the parliamentary general assembly.” The minister of customs and trade, Hayati Yazıcı, has been making statements about how the “president is right.”

We have never before seen such a vista where the AK Party is concerned. I am of the conviction that insisting on the change will damage the AK Party further. And it will only stand to depress the public, which backed cases having to do with coup allegations.

The exciting backing by the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) of the proposed changes is really surprising. This backing ought to arouse the suspicions of the AK Party. The opposition parties are completely certain that, were the changes to be accepted, the bill would be laid at the AK Party's doorstep, which has them rubbing their hands together in excited anticipation.

It is clear that the AK Party is now at a fork in the road more serious than the March 1 bill and the Habur situation. We do hope that at this most sensitive point in our journey towards democratization Turkey's political scene is not overwhelmed by weakness.

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