|Editorial | Turkishpedia | July 31, 2017|
On Friday, Nawaz Sharif resigned following the Pakistani Supreme Court’s ruling that he has been dishonest to the Parliament and to the judicial system. The court disqualified him due to his family’s alleged financial improprieties and links to offshore accounts and lucrative properties as revealed in leaked Panama Papers. There has been suspicions that the money to buy the properties came from public funds. Despite Sharif was not named in the leaks, but his three adult children, a five-judge panel gave a unanimous decision that Sharif was no longer fit for the office. He can no longer have any parliamentary position, lead any party, or involve in any election campaigns.
The court decision followed the mass protests of opposition groups and their call to the judiciary to investigate the allegations on Sharif and his family. With no resistance to the verdict, the 68-year-old Prime Minister, who has been a prominent political figure in Pakistan for more than three decades, complied with the court decision and stepped down. It is the first time in Pakistan history that a Prime Minister was disqualified by the court and resigned afterwards.
It is incredibly difficult for leaders to survive from significant corruption trials, especially in democratic countries where rule of law prevails. The question is whether Nawaz Sharif could resist and survive from the allegations. It was less likely, but surely not impossible. The experience of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and corruption probes against him and his family members gives an idea for corrupted politicians on how to survive and maintain their political power despite highly significant probes.
Recently, Malta Papers, by the European Investigative Collaboration Network, have revealed that Azeri Billionaire Mubariz Mansimov secretly bought a $25 million oil tanker for Erdogan’s family, his son and brother-in-law in 2008. Mansimov has become a Turkish citizen two years earlier and his business incredibly took off, especially through the help of lucrative contracts with Turkish state firms. Moreover, Panama Papers, by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), unveiled documents about financial improprieties of five businessmen who have close ties with Erdogan.
The corruption allegations based on leaked Malta and Panama Papers are just a small portion of corruption probes against Erdogan and his family. Criminal corruption investigations by Turkish National Police on December 17th and 25th unearthed dramatically large scale of systemic corruption of Erdogan and some members of his political party (AKP). In December 17th investigation, one cabinet member and the sons of three ministers were charged with taking bribes from an Iranian facilitator, Reza Zarrab, who laundered and circulated Iranian money during the embargo imposed by UN, EU, and US. The Federal Southern District Court of New York filed an indictment against the suspects of the December 17th investigation––Reza Zarrab and two other of his accomplices––for engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and other Iranian entities. These entities were barred by U.S. sanctions from using the banking system but the US prosecutors accused them for defrauding several financial institutions by concealing the true nature of these transactions. The then-U.S. attorney Preet Bharara used the official indictments of December 17th case, confirming the accuracy of evidences gathered by Turkish police.
In December 25th investigation, Turkish prosecutors indicted several businessmen affiliated to Erdogan’s son, Bilal Erdogan, who was part of a corruption cycle. Erdogan’s son was alleged to be a conduit in the corrupt relationship between the businessmen and his father. This investigation uncovered a structure for systemic corruption established by Erdogan, which is so-called “ten percent pool system”. Several businessmen were forced to give 10% bribes in return for procured government contracts. This investigation also included the current Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. In one of the cases, the police uncovered an active role of Binali Yildirim in collecting $630 million from businessmen to the “pool” and buying of SABAH-ATV media outlet. Furthermore, the December 25th investigation included Yasin El Qadi, the Saudi businessman, who was involved in corruption scandal through Erdogan’s son. He was declared as terrorist financier by the United Nations and was included in no-fly-list by US authorities. Although El Qadi was prohibited to travel, he illegally entered Turkey thanks to Erdogan’s help and met with him and, as well as, intelligence officials. Erdogan also has provided protection to El Qadi during his several visits to Turkey.
So the question follows: How has Erdogan survived from these significant corruption probes, while his counterparts, Sharif failed to stay in power even he confronted with less severe charges. There are many lessons to be learned from Erdogan on how to stay in power despite those substantial accusations in many different forms.
Weaken opposition parties and eliminate alternatives in the political arena. While Imran Khan, leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, lobbied vigorously for Sharif’s investigation, Turkey’s opposition parties were too weak to stand against Erdogan’s crimes. The three main opposition parties of Turkey, Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have had great difficulty responding to Erdogan’s Machiavellian politics which exploits Turkey’s ethnic and religious diversity and feeds the fear of instability and the prospect of economic downturn. Erdogan blatantly played the ethnic, sectarian, and religious cards in such dirty ways it was hard for the opposition parties to respond. The AKP, which has access to state and municipal funds as well as generous business donations, also far outspent all three opposition parties. Badly organized and ill-qualified opposition parties failed to gain any election victory against Erdogan and bring him in front of the justice for his crimes.
Attack is the best way of defense. Erdogan targeted his opponents and accused them of being traitors, terrorists, and coup plotters. While he was in quagmire, he exhausted all means to control state institutions to elude the criminal corruption investigations. The beleaguered opposition gave him a blank check through which he undermined the institutions and the rule of law. He launched a brutal crackdown on judiciary, bureaucracy and purged thousands of civilian servants in critical positions. He used the military coup attempt of July 15th 2016 as a pretext to dismiss 160,000 public servants; including 50,000 police officers, 4,400 prosecutors and judges, and 22,500 military personnel and locked more than 50,000 of them in jails. As a result of draconian purge in the government, Turkey has undergone dramatic traumas, institutional and judicial structures have been reshaped, and the executive branch has exerted extensive control over the judicial and legislative power.
Lock down journalists, control the media, and suppress the freedom of speech. Erdogan has understood that political propaganda is one of the key instrument to control public sentiments and hinder the influence of political opponents and their opinions. Printed and digital media, TV and radio broadcasts, social media, TV series and films are controlled by the government. The government has controlled the information sources, censored, out lawed, or destroyed books, documentaries, and materials deemed “dangerous.” Turkey has had the largest prison population of journalists in the world. 274 journalists have been arrested in Turkey since the July 15th coup attempt (TurkeyPurge).
Sharif is disqualified and forced to resign due to corruption allegations, but Erdogan succeeded to stay in power and has gained more power. There are many lessons to be learned from Erdogan, especially for those who are corrupted and willing to stay in power with no accountability, and for those who prefer personal and political interests to the will of people.