Coalition in turmoil
Mired in corruption, pursuing costly foreign adventures and a tanking economy, Esen Uslu looks at the shambles
A former mafia boss, Sedat Peker, who was involved in rightwing paramilitary activities since his youth, has suddenly became the focal point of political life in Turkey and a thorn in the flesh of the ruling coalition. His YouTube channel is breaking all records - he announces in advance what his next video will be about, and his videos are eagerly awaited by a captive audience, mesmerised by revelations regarding the corruption of politicians, as well as the upper echelons of bureaucracy.
For those seasoned in the politics of Turkey there is nothing new or unknown here, but for a young generation, which has grown up under the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, such revelations are striking. Under Erdoğan’s rule the role model presented to the young generation was that of a nationalist-Islamist-xenophobic-mafioso fighting against both infidels and Kurds - a theme repeated over and over again in the media controlled by Erdoğan and his henchmen.
So who is being targeted in Peker’s video rantings? Well, the list goes from the top down. Former and current ministers, police chiefs, members of parliament, the judiciary and the press; former members of the special forces - all involved in shady deals, falsifying investigations, prosecutions and judgements, organising torture in police stations, assassinating opposition figures; and responsible for extortion, rape and murder. The list goes on.
Just to give the flavour let me mention a few of the revelations.
- Erdoğan’s henchmen provided millions of dollars as an unsecured loan to the leader of a finance-capital group, which enabled him to purchase opposition media channels, including the largest daily newspaper. To date not a single penny has been repaid, and nobody is asking for it.
- A former minister for interior affairs was involved in taking over a marina resort on the Aegean coast from an Azerbaijani businessman. He was charged with being a member of the ‘terrorist’ Gülen movement, but in return for handing over the marina resort he got a short sentence and was released.
- The current ministry of interior affairs played a major role in persuading the representative of the Utah-based Mormon capital group to transfer the shares he held in one its major holding companies to a lawyer acting for another group. The lawyer used to be a much-decorated former special forces colonel, who played a key role in the seizure of Kurdish political prisoner Abdullah Öcalan in 1999.
- Former special forces officers and mafia hit men were involved in the assassination of a well-known Turkish Cypriot investigative journalist. He was looking into an illegal excavation in one of the monasteries in Cyprus, where some valuable items seized by officers had been buried, awaiting recovery at an opportune moment.
In reality this kind of behaviour has been standard under Turkish capitalism since its inception in the early 20th century. Its primitive accumulation was facilitated by the massacre and expropriation of the Christian population. Then during the early republican era, a new Turkish capitalist class came into being with the help of funds usurped from the state. Former army men and state bureaucrats became ‘entrepreneurs’, especially following the creation of the armed forces mutual assistance fund in the early 60s.
So what is new this time? To put it simply, the sell-by date of Erdoğan’s ruling coalition has passed.
His primary coalition partner, the MHP (Nationalist Action Party - the infamous Grey Wolves), is in disarray. Its leader is now very old and incapable of making any meaningful contribution. He can barely walk to the podium to deliver his ferocious but stale messages against the opposition every Tuesday during the televised parliamentary group meeting. The formation of the ‘Good Party’ dealt the MHP a severe blow, and now the ruling coalition is planning to reduce the parliamentary representation threshold to five percent of the total votes cast from the current 10% - designed to stop the Kurdish opposition winning any seats. But now the MHP may not be able to manage that threshold any more.
Erdoğan’s own AKP (Justice and Development Party) is also in disarray. The dogmatic pursuit of a quirky monetary policy, implemented by his son-in-law and his team of young guns, resulted in a disaster. The foreign currency reserves obtained by the Central Bank worth $128 billion were sold off in a vain attempt to support the exchange rate. The finance minister and Central Bank managers were replaced in quick succession, and interest rates were raised, but the Turkish lira is still very much in decline.
The massive public infrastructure investments of Erdoğan’s early years - in Turkish parlance ‘concrete for votes’ - are barely maintained through ‘build-operate-transfer’ (BOT) schemes, which actually doubles or even triples the cost in the long run. Motorways, bridges, rail depots and airports built under BOT do not generate the required traffic and revenue, so the guaranteed payments to the construction and management companies are draining state coffers.
The tax receipts from corporations and businesses are falling despite several attempts to write off penalties and interest on unpaid tax. Easy international credit is coming to an end, and worsening international relations with the United States, the European Union and Russia have also put the brakes on ‘borrow and spend’ (not to mention ‘hope for the best’) politics. Turkey is barely able to import the necessary Covid vaccines, while international tourism receipts are falling because of the inability to contain the pandemic.
Foreign adventures, together with the military spending involved, is also choking the economy. The financial support received from the Gulf countries in the post-‘Arab spring’ environment to create and maintain an army of mercenaries in Syria, Libya, Azerbaijan, as well as in some African countries, is now diminishing.
The spectre of uncontrolled hordes of immigrants forcing their way through the gates of Fortress Europe still has an effect in maintaining a line of credit and grants from the EU, but colonising the occupied Syrian lands is still costing more than that. The numbers of bases, fortifications and troops holding the Syrian forces and Russian airforce on the M5 highway in Idlib to protect Islamist jihadis is increasing, but with diminishing returns.
The Kurdish thorn in the flesh of the government’s ‘defence through attack’ policy has made it a prisoner of the army top brass as well as the jihadists. The ever-increasing aerial bombing campaign is supplemented by the helicopter-borne incursion of troops going deeper into Iraqi territory every time. The poor man’s bombers and domestically manufactured armed drones create a stir in the international press because of their effects in Libya and the Azerbaijan-Armenian conflicts, but their effectiveness against Kurdish freedom fighters, despite all the hype, amounts to nothing better than killing a few individuals targeted by intelligence. Every incursion is met with fierce resistance and, despite suffering severe losses, Kurdish freedom fighters have not budged.
The Qandil mountain, where the headquarters of those Kurdish freedom fighters is believed to be situated, is still out of bounds. However, the Mount Sinjar and Makhmour refugee camp have become targets. And the epitomisation of the thorn in the Turkish flesh - Kobanê and its environs - are still not under control.
The tried-and-tested policies inherited from the Ottoman empire are still being employed: eg, the creation of a loyal militia from among the Kurds to let dog bite dog. The various methods employed in an attempt to isolate or put a stranglehold over the areas controlled by the Kurdish freedom movement in Iraqi territory have not exactly succeeded despite the huge loss of lives, with many more expected.
In Turkey the soft-left, pro Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) has been targeted, with its leading cadres prosecuted and imprisoned, while around 500 rank-and-file members have been proscribed from taking part in politics. This is part of the attempt to bolster Erdoğan’s chances of re-election. Kurdish votes are crucial for both sides of the political spectrum, but if the HDP is eliminated from the equation Erdoğan believes he would have a better chance of garnering support from within the Kurdish population, since the opposition parties are even more mired in anti-Kurdish sentiment and rhetoric.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has so far rebuffed all attempts by Erdoğan to improve relations with the US following his open support for Donald Trump - the first face-to-face meeting will take place at the Nato summit this weekend. Then there are the years of pollution of the Marmara Sea - the sewer of Istanbul and all the other industrialised cities along its coasts – which have created a devastating effect. And, while all this is going on, we have the ongoing Peker revelations.
It is clear to everyone that the current regime is in crisis, but what is the alternative? Where is the organised left?