Rift in AK Party over graft probe widens as 3 more deputies resign
AK Party deputy Ertuğrul Günay (Photo: Today's Zaman)
By making manifesto-like statements in which they harshly criticized the ruling party's position against a sweeping corruption investigation, three deputies from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) announced on Friday that they were parting ways with the party, adding to the ongoing chain of resignations from the party.
The resignations came after the three deputies were referred to the AK Party's disciplinary committee for expulsion on Thursday due to their critical remarks of the ruling party over a graft investigation.
The AK Party's Central Executive Board (MYK) held a meeting late on Thursday and decided to send three of its lawmakers -- Erdal Kalkan, Ertuğrul Günay and Haluk Özdalga -- to the disciplinary committee with a request for their expulsion due to their “verbal and written remarks that are against the policies of the AK Party and which seek to insult the ruling party.”
The three deputies, however, did not wait for the decision of the disciplinary commission and parted ways with the AK Party.
Kalkan announced his resignation via tweets early on Friday. The deputy directed harsh criticism at the AK Party and its chairman, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, stating: “Political parties are not the personal property of politicians. They are not the property of Erdoğan either. Political parties are social products that belong to the millions of people who created them.”
Kalkan's remarks were seen as open criticism of the AK Party's approach to the ongoing corruption and bribery investigation, which has implicated members of the ruling party. The sons of two former ministers as well as over 20 people, including bureaucrats and businesspeople, were arrested as part of the investigation. Instead of clearing the way for a swift and proper investigation, the AK Party made several moves which legal experts said were aimed at obstructing the probe.
The deputy also said Turkish people are not fools, in an implicit reference to the AK Party's massive campaign to convince the public that the corruption investigation is an international plot to weaken Turkey. He also stressed that the party's future is not very bright. “This will not end here. Our honorable people see everything. Let our people be the arbitrator [in this case],” he added.
Günay called a press conference in Parliament and said the AK Party is facing “very serious allegations,” referring to the corruption investigation. He said while the ruling party had to face this matter with self-confidence, the party officials are displaying a “defense psychology.”
Günay noted that he was determined to and even insisted on staying in the party to send the necessary warnings regarding the handling of the corruption investigation, but his warnings fell on deaf ears. He said while the party leadership stood by the ministers allegedly involved in corruption and bribery for eight days before asking them to resign, they immediately referred three deputies, himself among them, to the party's disciplinary committee for expulsion for making critical remarks of the government about the corruption probe.
However, he said, being referred to the committee made it easier for the three deputies to part ways with the ruling party. Günay said while there is large, innocent and mistreated public, there is a party with a disdainful and dominating mentality. He also stated that the AK Party is “heading somewhere else directed by their arrogance.”
“It was not possible for me to tolerate it any longer. Everybody has some sayings which are like principles for them. Mine are: I can't condone cruelty; and I will never applaud the oppressor. And, I can live without bread but I cannot live without freedom,” he noted.
In clear reference to the government change on a regulation requiring police officers to inform their superiors of all investigations, Günay defined the change as “unlawful” and advised members of the police force not to comply with such “unlawful orders.” “I am warning those civil servants who feel obliged to comply with such unlawful orders. According to the law, you do not comply with unlawful orders. Complying with such orders will not prevent one from punishment in the future.”
The government last week changed a regulation that requires police officers to inform their superiors of all investigations. Jurists described the change as a violation of the law and the constitution and said the change will allow the government to monitor any investigation ordered by prosecutors. The Council of State overturned the amendment on Friday.
Günay, however, said he does not plan to resign as deputy.
Following Günay's statement, Özdalga also called a press conference to announce his resignation. He said the government has been engaged in a number of practices starting from Dec. 17, when the corruption investigation began, which are seen as an open interference in the judiciary. “The police force has, so to speak, been put in a cutting machine,” he said, referring to the removal from duty of some 500 police officers who were involved in the investigation. “And the amendment on the police force has violated the constitution, other laws and the conscience of the people,” he stated.
The deputy also said he would not accept or approve of attempts to cover up the ongoing investigation. “Claims of domestic or foreign powers or an interest rate lobby being behind the corruption investigation [as often put forward by the prime minister] are far from convincing. A man might be able to explain anything, but he cannot explain corruption and fraud,” he said, adding that the prime minister's accusations of other groups for the corruption operation have dealt a blow to the prestige of Turkey.
In addition Özdalga called on the AK Party government to refrain from interfering in the judiciary during to the graft investigation. “There is not a crisis in the judiciary. But there is interference in the judiciary,” he said, adding that Turkey is at a “critical junction.”
The deputies' decision to step down came only two days after the resignations of three ministers who were allegedly involved in corruption and bribery. Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Interior Minister Muammer Güler and Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar resigned on Wednesday while protesting their innocence. Bayraktar also resigned as a deputy. The sons of Çağlayan and Güler are currently under arrest as part of the corruption probe. Bayraktar's son was also briefly detained during the investigation. One other minister, Egemen Bağış, was removed from the Cabinet by the prime minister in a major reshuffle. There were claims that Bağış had taken bribes.
On Thursday Özdalga stated that the political turmoil Turkey was going through needs an urgent intervention by President Abdullah Gül, calling it a crisis of both government and democracy. “The turmoil we are going through -- which I call a crisis of government and democracy -- is to the extent that the damage to the country's regime, economy and international esteem is growing incrementally,” Özdalga said, further adding that the support of the president is a must in such a chaotic atmosphere.
The chain of resignations in the AK Party began with İdris Bal who quit the ruling party in late November due to his opposition to the government's planned closure of prep schools. Bal was followed by Hakan Şükür in mid-December, who also protested the government's plan to shut down prep schools. Earlier this week, former Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin resigned from the AK Party, claiming that he had disagreements with the ruling party over a number of issues, including the party's view of the recent corruption scandal.
With the latest resignations, the number of AK Party seats in Parliament has dropped to 320.
Earlier this week, Günay expressed criticism of the prime minister's rhetoric on the corruption scandal, saying he had been expecting a softer attitude from the prime minister following his Pakistan visit -- in vain, it turned out.
“The prime minister was abroad for a couple of days. I was hoping he would say things that would relieve the public and ease the tension across the country, given that he had a chance to think about things in a rational manner out there, which unfortunately didn't happen. His speech upon his return was like a summary of the speech he delivered in Rize last week,” he said, adding that he was saddened by the remarks of the prime minister.
On Tuesday night, Prime Minister Erdoğan addressed his supporters at Ankara Esenboğa Airport following his return to Turkey from Pakistan, calling the corruption investigation an attack on his government.
Also on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç expressed criticism of the three deputies over their resignations and their harsh statements targeting the government and the prime minister over the corruption investigation, saying a deputy should not seek to harm his party or the prime minister while stepping down. He said the resignations will not weaken the AK Party but on the contrary, the ruling party will even grow stronger and more “clean.”
Bal: More resignations to come
While commenting about Friday's resignations to Today's Zaman, deputy Bal said he expects more AK Party deputies to resign. However, he said, deputies planning to quit the ruling party should not lose any more time as they will later look like “mice leaving a sinking ship.” “They should reveal their democrat identities right now,” he said.
According to Bal, the government has interfered in the area of authority of the judiciary and is thus about to lose its legitimacy. “Pressure by the executive on the judiciary is an open violation of the constitution as well as the separation of powers. This may lead the executive to lose its legitimacy. The separation of powers is a fundamental principle of democracy. If this principle is damaged and one power places pressure on the other, then democracy cannot work,” he noted.
Bal also said the recent developments do not signal a bright future for the AK Party. “Those who cannot pass the test of democracy and stand by universal principles of law will eventually be erased from the political scene.”
An AK Party deputy who wished to remain anonymous, while speaking to Today's Zaman, agreed that more deputies will resign in the coming days. He said both the government's attempts to interfere in the judiciary during the corruption investigation as well as the prime minister's “harsh tongue” against supporters of the investigation would contribute to the expected resignations. “If the prime minister insists on this harsh tongue, our country will be deeply damaged. Our friends who do not wish to stand by this may resign,” he said.
The deputy also said he had expressed his opinions which differed from the official policy of the AK Party administration in the recent past and added that he would do “what is necessary” if he is referred to the party's disciplinary committee.