A day after high-profile arrests in Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister has sacked five police commissioners. The sacked officers were heads of financial crimes unit, organized crime unit, anti-terrorism unit, smuggling unit and public security branch.
Police had arrested 84 persons in Istanbul and Ankara. Majority of them belonging to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and high government officials. Among the arrested are sons of three important cabinet ministers (interior, environment and economy); Mustafa Demir, mayor of the Faith District in Istanbul; CEO of the state-run Halkbank and Ali Agagolu, the richest man in Turkey. All these persons were arrested after a year-long surveillance by the police. The main charges against them are of financial irregularities in awarding government contracts/tenders, bribery, money laundering, distribution of prime land among favorites and gold smuggling.
Erdogan retaliated by sacking five police commissioners responsible for making these arrests. Hakan Sakur, a popular lawmaker and former captain of the Iranian soccer team has resigned in protest while many others are expected to follow. The present crisis in Turkey is primarily an off shoot of the internal party struggle between Erdogan and his former ally Fethullah Gullen. It is to be noted that AKP has won the general elections since 2002 because of the unconditional support of Gullen. It is estimated that the moderate cleric has one million followers in Turkey.
Fethullah the founder of the Gullen Movement on self-imposed exile, presently lives in Pennsylvanian. Gullen has many followers in the Turkish judiciary, police, other state departments and media. He has developed wide differences with the secular government of Erdogan. These differences basically stem from Erdogan’s authoritarian style of governing Turkey. The differences between the former close confederates have reached a breaking point as Gullen refers to Erdogan as “The Pharoah.”
Erdogan’s plan to shut down a network of Hizmet schools run by the Gullen Movement basically started this power tug-of-war. The Gullen loyalists arrested high-profile figures within the government and the AKP for corruption while Erdogan retaliated by sacking five police commissioners.
The timing of these sacking is very crucial as local bodies elections are going to be held in March. These elections, according to the political analysts, are being viewed as a litmus test for Erdogan’s popularity. Erdogan desperately needs his party to win these local elections if he wants to become the first directly elected president in the history of Turkey. The presidential elections are scheduled to be held in August 2014.
Erdogan claims that these arrests were carried out by the followers of the cleric in order to discredit and consequently destabilize his government. Erdogan has vowed that he will not let Turkey fall into the hands of a minority with a narrow fundamentalist mindset. This move on Egdogan’s part is seen by the political commentators to start a purge of the government departments of the followers of the cleric.
Only time will tell whether Erdogan was right in going after Gullen’s followers but as of today Erdogan has made his first move by sacking five key police commissioners believed to be his loyalists.
By Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada