‘The issue is not only about corruption, it is also about the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers, things at the heart of the democratic regime. There is no democracy without these,” says Haluk Özdalga, who was a member of the ruling party since 2007 until his recent resignation.
“Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and politicians around him keep claiming that all this chaos is caused by an international plot, [with] the major culprits being the United States, Israel and the interest rate lobby. As the narrative goes, the Gülen movement is only a tool in this international plot! Quite a number of pro-government media, instantly following suit, have begun churning out incessant propaganda to prove this absurd story,”
You joined the AK Party in May 2007 after being involved in the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP), where you worked from the grassroots level up to several influential positions including deputy chairman of the DSP for about 25 years. You recently resigned from the AK Party after having been referred to the disciplinary committee. Would you tell us the background of this process? Why did you join the AK Party after your experience in social democratic parties? Why did you leave?
I’ve always been against military involvement in politics. However, the CHP was supporting military intervention in politics. As the 2007 presidential election approached, Mr. Deniz Baykal, then the leader of the CHP, adopted a provocative attitude by inviting the military to interfere in the election. When the April 27 military intervention took place, Baykal and his friends openly supported it. Strangely enough, there were few people who voiced opposition to this attitude in the CHP. I harshly criticized this attitude by saying enough was enough. I got an invitation from the AK Party to join them and accepted it.
However, there were other reasons that caused me to depart from the CHP. I believed that this party’s ultra-nationalist and anti-reformist attitude toward the Kurdish question was a serious mistake. Another issue was that I was against the headscarf ban. Social democrats should not only stand against the headscarf ban, but they should also take the leading stance against it. All of these were basic differences of opinion related to the country’s vital problems.
And your problems with the AK Party?
The AK Party did really a great service to this country in many respects. If I had the slightest contribution in all these, I would be proud of it. However, things began looking differently after the 2011 elections. The corruption scandal that came out on Dec. 17 involves a few ministers, their children, the general manager of a public bank, an Iranian businessman who allegedly laundered great sums of money, and claims of bribery [in the form] of millions of dollars. The prosecutor had serious allegations, and the ministers whose names were involved in the affair should have immediately resigned. Of course, we should assume that any accused person is innocent until the contrary is legally proven. These people should have the opportunity to defend themselves in a court and we should wait for the verdict.
This is a corruption scandal of a grand size…
Yes. But politically, the more critical issue was that the government ought to [have] demonstrated a clear attitude against these allegations — of course not only in words, but in deeds as well. However, the government didn’t exactly act that way. The interior minister, whose name was involved in the scandal, immediately started to depose the police officers who were doing the investigation. A regulation was immediately amended with the explicit aim of making it impossible for prosecutors to carry out independent investigations in secrecy. It was later called off by the Council of State but, in the meantime, a number of ongoing corruption investigations were disclosed. Despite a court decision, the İstanbul police — under control of the government — refused to comply with new orders of detention. In several speeches, government officials threatened the prosecutor of the corruption case. And a high-level judiciary organization like the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors [HSYK] was verbally attacked and intimidated. Mr. Erdoğan and the people close to him came up with several incredible remarks. About the CEO of the public bank — in the house of whom the police found 4.5 million euros in cash secreted in shoe boxes — they said, “He is a philanthropist.”
Well, these are not [things] that you can turn your head away from so easily. The issue is not only about corruption, it is also about the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers, things at the heart of the democratic regime. There is no democracy without these. I made a number of statements expressing my concerns. Following those statements, Prime Minister Erdoğan gave instructions for disciplinary action against me and two other deputies for dismissal. The day I got the information, I resigned.
Newly-installed Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ accused the HSYK of unconstitutional acts after taking office. Erdoğan himself announced that he would sue the judicial body after it declared that the government’s move to stifle the ongoing investigation by changing a regulation about law enforcers was not right. How do you explain what’s going on?
The HSYK has a legal right to make a decision as it did. Just enter the website of the HSYK and you will see many decisions like that. It did what it ought to do. It is very unfortunate that we have a minister of justice trying to suppress the independent judiciary and intimidate a vital, high-level judicial body like the HSYK, which as a matter of fact acted in conformity with the word and spirit of the law. It is clear to everyone supporting the independent judiciary who is against it and trying to obstruct it for political ends. The sun cannot be covered by mud, as the saying goes in Turkish.
Turkey is finishing the year 2013 with this scandal. How credible is it to claim that the corruption probe against the government was opened by police and prosecutors close to the community of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen?