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Erdogan is steering as Turkey takes a turn for the worse

Since Dec. 17, the date when the corruption operation was launched, Erdogan’s government has done everything to cover it up

Mahir Zeynalov

Published: Updated:

Millions rallied behind Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his firm and determined position in tackling Turkey’s economic woes, facing its dark past and most importantly, eradicating its infamous “deep state” that has been the most significant threat to Turkey’s already fragile democracy.

The Turkish government is now scrambling to do whatever it takes to bury a recent and highly publicized graft scandal that has rocked the country since Dec. 17. It seems that it includes an amendment that would make it possible for a retrial of army officers accused of being part of a secret plot to overthrow the elected Turkish government.

The retrial of army officers would only be welcomed for those who were subject to mistreatment and received unfair trial. But this violation of rights, if there are any, took place during the rule of this government and it sounds disingenuous that the government is interested in defending the rights of convicted generals while it is slowly killing democracy in the country.

From a backward nation to regional powerhouse

Turkey was a backward country gripped by a severe financial crisis and deepening political turmoil beyond description when Erdogan took over government. With sweeping reforms and maintaining unprecedented stability, the economy was revived and left the life support machine and Erdogan’s government made huge investments across the country. He received ever increasing public support for his tremendous service in parliamentary elections in 2007 and 2011.

Erdogan sued me this week for tweeting two news reports about the corruption scandal that did not even include my own thoughts

Mahir Zeynalov

Since 2011, however, Erdogan made an unfortunate U-turn. Along with the opposition of several EU member nations, the government has lost its appetite for membership in the 28-member bloc. The government proposed to switch from the parliamentary system to a presidential one, which has significantly closed the constitutional writing process with regards to other opposition parties. The government slowly silenced the media by co-opting some newspapers and TV channels, imposing tax fines on others, putting pressure on media bosses to fire outspoken columnists and intimidating journalists through different ways. For instance, Erdogan sued me this week for tweeting two news reports about the corruption scandal that did not even include my own thoughts. What is ironic is that I supported this government up until recently and defended most of its democratic actions.

For the past few years, the government has achieved almost absolute, unchallenged authority. The Parliament failed to check on the government and has become a rubber stamp legislative institution that approved almost all of the government’s decisions. One of the biggest recent scandals is the fact that Courts of Accounts failed to make necessary audits over public spending and the Parliament approved the budget of 2014 despite serious complaints.

Will his support erode?

Three ministers, Erdogan Bayraktar, Idris Naim Sahin and Ertugrul Gunay, who served in his Cabinet in the past year, criticized him for mishandling the crises. One of them even called on the prime minister to resign. Seven lawmakers resigned from the ruling party in the past few months and one of the resigned deputies, Hakan Şükür, said there are many deputies and ministers within the ruling party who are on the same page with him. Only time will show how they will react to the troubling trend.

Since Dec. 17, the date when the corruption operation was launched, Erdogan’s government has done everything to cover it up. He removed hundreds of police officials across the country and threatened a prosecutor who ordered police chiefs to launch the second round of corruption arrests. Ironically, that prosecutor is also the one who pressed charges against 36 anti-government protesters, demanding up to 59 years in prison. Instead of addressing to concerns, Erdogan stepped up his rhetoric, blaming what he calls a “gang within the state” to be behind the corruption investigation. He created an imaginary enemy with “global links” and convinced his supporters that he is fighting against it. He even named the fight an “Independence War.”

On Saturday, he said he ordered the Justice Ministry to seek possible ways for retrial of army officers who are blamed for overthrowing the Turkish government. With sharp rhetoric, Erdogan was successful in maintaining his electoral base despite the huge challenges he faced. But trying to get coup plot convicts and suspects out of jail could significantly erode the support he enjoys among public.

Erdogan’s government received serious backing from the public for burying Turkey’s anti-democratic deep state, but reviving that monster could have profound negative consequences for the nation’s democratic achievements. Simply put, Erdogan is bringing old and dark Turkey back in front of our very eyes.

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Mahir Zeynalov is an Istanbul-based journalist with English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.