ISTANBUL – First they kiss rather clumsily, then a bit later they are laying on the bed together. She – a young student – on top. She moves, and he – an older, married politician – slaps her bottom. The sex videos of two politicians from the ultra nationalist National Action Party (MHP) have caused turmoil in Turkey. The men have resigned, but that didn’t bring the affair to an end. It has revived a persistent conspiracy theory. Is the governing AKP party behind it? Or, more precisely, that immensely popular Muslim leader from the United States?
The party dignitaries and female students do nothing illegal and in fact the videos are hardly arousing: one video starts with a scene in which the couple put sheets on the bed, in the other no more clothes than a blouse are taken off. Still, there is great moral indignation in Turkey. The MHP voters are in general not only nationalist, but also devout Muslims, and cheating on your spouse is not accepted.
It’s a disaster for the MHP, exactly one month before the general elections of June 12. Until recently the party was pretty sure they would pass the election threshold of ten percent, but that’s no longer a certainty. If voters do indeed turn their backs on the MHP, they will move to the only (big) party that is even more devout: the AKP. A double gain for the AKP: more voters, and if the MHP doesn’t reach ten percent of the votes, their seats in parliament will go to the parties that did make it above the threshold.
The Turkish papers have already published lists of ‘other sex scandals in politics’, with Berlusconi and even Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. And an affair closer to home was recalled: a year ago Deniz Baykal, the old leader of the biggest opposition party CHP, had to step down after leading the party for eighteen years, because of a distasteful video in which he was caught with his secretary.
And as if the discussion wasn’t heated enough already, MHP leader Devlet Bahceli suggested that the attack came ‘from overseas’. And in Turkey everybody knows who is referred to with the term ‘overseas’: the Turkish Muslim leader Fethullah Gülen, who moved to the United States in 1999. He has a huge following in Turkey, but is also looked on with great suspicion. Gülen preaches a loving Islam and peaceful coexistence between all religions, but allegedly has a hidden agenda: to make Turkey a caliphate again. For years now the conspiracy theory has been that Gülen pulls the strings at the AKP from his estate in Pennsylvania. It is one of the reasons for the deep distrust of the AKP: the party and Gülen supposedly found each other in their joint goal to overthrow the secular republic.
Whether the video was really first put online in the United States, remains unclear. The fact is that Fethullah Gülen reacted to the allegations: he calls it a ‘ruthless attack’ and adds that ‘he would never resort to such aggression and can only defend himself by filing a case for compensation’. No official complaint was filed though.
The still popular Prime Minister Erdoğan has made good use of the affair: during election campaigns in the country he expresses his aversion. Not only about the moral depravation of the MHP, but also about the allegations against his party and against Gülen. ‘It has no meaning to hold others responsible for an internal conflict within the party’, he said. And he directed a question to Bahceli: ‘Why do you ask the men for their resignations? What you should do is to expel them.’
One of the other election themes making headlines is the Kurdish issue and increasing PKK violence. And the irony is that this ongoing problem could save the MHP. Every PKK attack drives voters back into the arms of the ultra-nationalists of the MHP.