How corruption threatens democracy in Turkey

In hindsight, when considering the major corruption investigations of December 2013 that were derailed by crooked Islamist rulers, and the terrible democratic experience the nation has had to endure since then, I’m sure Turks now have a better and clearer understanding of the importance of the link between corruption and democracy.
When corruption undermines the pillars of democracy, especially the rule of law, independent auditing, media scrutiny and parliamentary oversight, democracy is interrupted. In turn, the nation has been left unable to effectively address fundamental challenges, from homegrown political crises to ethnic and sectarian polarization, and from growing economic difficulties to mounting security challenges.
The fact that corrupt politicians, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his family members, and his political and business associates, are terrified to give full account of what they have done, as part of what has turned out to be a long-running graft network, reveals how easy it is to subvert the rules of democracy and destroy democratic institutions.
Just as Russians pour money into the pockets of elected officials in various European countries in order to curry favor with them once their careers have advanced, which is common knowledge but hard to detect and prove, Turkey’s Islamists are funneled funds from Saudi, Qatari and Iranian paymasters. Turkish investigators were able to fully uncover this clandestine business and prove the activities of this criminal network beyond a shadow of a doubt. Then they were made to pay for having done so, either by being unlawfully banned from practicing their profession or arrested arbitrarily on trumped-up charges.
Since Erdoğan and company have succeeded in halting the investigations, they now represent the most serious threat to Turkish democracy. They have a lot to lose if the country returns to a democratic system of governance with a restored rule of law, or if they are simply ousted from power. Transparency and accountability are poison to their authoritarian rule. The patronage system Erdoğan helped establish to garner support from business and political groups would be at risk of collapsing if the country adopted fair rules when awarding public contracts and tenders.
In the end, rampant corruption has damaged democracy, wrecked the economy, fueled discontent and exacerbated security risks.
In order to distract the public from these problems, Erdoğan and his associates are now deliberately provoking ethnic and sectarian clashes, hoping the ensuing conflict will help mobilize voters around their leadership. However, this sinister plan has not panned out as they had hoped, because the public has mostly seen through their betrayal of the nation, thanks to media that is critical and independent despite facing intense pressure from the government.
Nevertheless, Erdoğan is determined to use desperate methods to push the country to the brink and even over the edge, hoping that blackmailing the nation with chaos and terror will pay off. This is why he has ordered the police to raid business groups, organized paramilitary youth groups called Osmanlı Ocakları to attack media outlets, and resorted to vitriolic hate speech to paint targets on the backs of political opponents and critics. The more corrupt he becomes, the more authoritarian he becomes.
Every day, Turks are living the terrible experience described in the preamble of the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption put forth by the Council of Europe (CoE), “Corruption threatens the rule of law, democracy and human rights, undermines good governance, fairness and social justice, distorts competition, hinders economic development and endangers the stability of democratic institutions and the moral foundations of society.” Each and every word in this warning has unfortunately come true in Turkey, a member of the CoE and a signatory to this convention.
If Turkey wants to move forward on its democratic path, it has to do away with corruption. I think the insistence on the part of all opposition parties to reopen the 2013 graft investigations suggests that most in Turkey are aware of the threats posed by corrupt rulers who act with impunity. That means we still can have hope for Turkey.
12 September 2015