A basket stuffed with rotten apples

The corruption affair is still shaking Turkey. It’s a week ago now that the sons of three Ministers and some businessmen, among whom the filthy rich real estate magnate Ali Agaoglu, were taken into custody, suspected of corruption. That was followed by a wave of policemen getting fired: the government sees the affair as a political game and aneffort to damage the power of the government and the position of Turkey in the world.

Problematic of course, for the AKP. The party won its first elections in 2002, partly because of the promise it would deal with the wid-spread corruption in Turkey. This message was even in the name of the party, which is officially not AKP but AK Party, with AK meaning ‘pure’, ‘clean’.

In that year, 2002, Turkey was at 64th place on the corruption list of Transparency International, together with Thailand: a worse score than China but just a bit better than Senegal. During the next general elections, in 2007, Turkey was still at 64th place, but was doing slightly better during the elections of 2011: place 61. In 2013 Turkey made it to53rd place.

A huge traffic fine

These are not hard statistics about how much corruption there really is in a country, the ranking is based on ‘perception’ and is thus about how much corruption people experience. In that respect, it’s going in the right direction in Turkey. But there are different kinds of corruption. It can very well be that the people experience less corruption because it occurs less on a level that bothers or helps people. You don’t have to slip some money to a civil servant anymore to get a passport quickly, and the days that you can pay a cop some money so he will tear up a huge traffic fine are also over. But what if the corruption has removed itself to the level at which a normal citizen doesn’t notice it? To the highest posts in the government, to the richest businessmen?

I think that’s exactly what’s going on. Turkey has turned into a ‘constructocracy’ over the last decade: politics is dominated by the construction sector. With amazing speed everywhere in the country TOKI complexes have appeared: groups of concrete apartment blocks, often on the outskirts of cities, for middle class incomes. TOKI is a government project and there are unimaginable amounts of money at stake. And TOKI is only a small part of the building fever of the AKP government.

Not a soul

Two whole new cities will be built on the coast north of Istanbul, a sort of second Bosporus will be dug in the western part of the city, the construction of a third bridge over the Bosporus has started and there will be a third airport, and the metro tunnel under the Bosporus was opened recently. Add to that the dozens, no hundreds of shopping malls appearing everywhere in the country, including where I live, in Diyarbakir – not a soul comes to any of the shops and only the fast food restaurants in the malls seem to do good business, but who cares, the leaders of the constructocracy got their money.

And the sons of which ministers are now suspects in the corruption scandal? Those of the Ministers of Environment and Urbanisation, of Interior Affairs and of Economy.

It is exaclty this overload of construction works that triggered the protests in Istanbul and other Turkish cities in the spring and summer of this year: the construction bosses have, directed by the AKP, taken over the cities, and people are fed up with it. The motto of a big demonstration a few days ago in Istanbul made that clear again. It was: ‘The city is ours!’ But also this was, until now, not really linked to corruption, which doesn’t directly affect people’s daily lives like the everlasting and immense construction sites, the disappearance of parks and cultural heritage and the total lack of power that the people have over the development of their cities.

‘I am AKP’

So, this scandal must be a blow to the AKP? The party that said it would fight corruption has now totally fallen out of grace with its supporter base? Well, no, I don’t think so, actually. The local elections of 30 March 2014 will make things more clear, but for now it seems many AKP voters still support their party.

A few days ago I read an article about reactions to the scandal of AKP voters in the daily Radikal. The owner of a small shop said that not the whole government can be blamed for what’s happening: ‘There are rotten apples in every basket’. But what also drew my attention is that he didn’t say that he voted for the AKP, but ‘I am AKP’. For him the AKP is not just a party to vote for, but an identity.

And I think that counts for many AKP voters. They are often members of a group that was close to invisible before the AKP came to power: devout Muslims who were ignored by the Turkish establishment and who had no political or economic power. The AKP changed that. The economic policies of the party brought these people and the Anatolian cities they live in (Kayseri, Gaziantep, Konya, Denizli, etc) prosperity, they got more religious freedom and the old establishment (among whom the staunchly anti-religious army) were sidelined. These people identify themselves with the party, and see the leaders of it as sincere Muslims who live by Islamic morals and only want the best for the country.

Sixth ship

It’s quite something, I reckon, to then admit that there are not just a few rotten apples in the AKPbasket, but that the beautiful shiny healthy apples are actually the exception. That it’s not even worth the trouble to take the untouched apples out, because the many rotten ones in the basket no doubt give the good ones stains too. To admit that the religiousness of the AKP is just keeping up appearances, and that under the surface it’s all only about money and power.

Why would it be that Erdogan doesn’t clean up his government by sacking the tainted ministers and state that he will continue with a clean team? Why does he fire the cops that are involved in this investigation, and why does he propose a law that arranges that policemen from now on need permission from their superior for any corruption investigation, even if that superior is the subject of it? Is it possible the current scandal is only the tip of the iceberg? And would the sixth (!) ship the son of Erdogan recently bought shatter on that iceberg?

Homeless and disregarded

And imagine that the AKP voter does open his eyes, then where can he go, politically? There is no alternative. The biggest opposition party, CHP, represents the old elite that looks down on AKP voters, and is not even for CHP voters a real choice because they lack an alternative. The smaller ultra nationalist and also religious MHP is an option for some AKP voters, but they are too nationalistic for others, and they are also too small to break the power of the AKP. The pro-Kurdish BDP is still regarded by many Turks as close to terrorism, and the party is also not attractive for AKP voters because it doesn’t care much about religion.

And see how this corruption in Turkey starts touching the daily lives of normal, average Turks again. Another group in society that, when it has the guts to open its eyes, becomes politically homeless, and doesn’t get represented but is on the contrary deeply disregarded.

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