AKP ERODING CHECKS ON ITS POWER?
2009 November 24,
B. ANKARA 1497 C. ANKARA 1596 D. ANKARA 1642 E. ANKARA 1652 Classified By: Ambassador James Jeffrey, for reasons 1.4(b,d)
1. (C) SUMMARY. The past six months have seen an increase in cases where the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has used legal and extraordinary channels to intimidate, coerce or attack its political opponents or those who might present a check on its power. Most of these cases highlighted by the media seem to be within the law or regulation, as the AKP is quick to assert. However, Turkey's system of government has few checks and balances in place to prevent the abuse of government structures by the executive branch for political objectives, and the AKP is using this to its maximum advantage. The problem in assessing the impact of all of this, as in the Ergenekon case, is that the "targets" of the AKP -- such as the TGS and the "deep state" themselves -- long exploited the system's authoritarian, weak checks-and-balances nature for their own advantage.
END SUMMARY. Defanging the Turkish General Staff -----------------------------------
2. (C) While any ruling party can manipulate the system to achieve its goals, in the past most parties had showed some restraint -- not least so as not to provoke the military into getting involved. However, since the military's failed "e-coup" attempt in 2007, its influence has dimmed, and the AKP seems determined to undermine its credibility and authority. Polls indicate a generally pro-military populace is decidedly anti-military intervention in politics.
3. (C) The case of Colonel Dursun Cicek, the key person linking current military personnel to the Ergenekon case, is the most prominent example of government supporters pressing their advantage against the TGS while remaining within the letter -- if not the spirit -- of the law. Cicek is accused of having authored a plan detailing how the government and its allies in the Fethullah Gulen religious movement could be undercut and the AKP removed from power. The evidence against Cicek has been provided by an anonymous source, allegedly in the military.
The Gulen-affiliated newspaper, Zaman, trumpets "forensic tests" (often unattributed, and not shared with the TGS) that declare the documents authentic. However, the forensic work only supports the argument that the documents originated in a military computer (ala the anonymous letters), but not that they are actually authentic texts -- let alone that they were ever part of an organized plot. Zaman, Yeni Safak, and other pro-AKP press outlets have created a sense of legitimacy around such "evidence," and have provided little to no discussion of the other side of the story.
4. (C) Regardless of the validity of any of the evidence, the continued accretion of an air of legitimacy for the case has begun to threaten the higher echelons of the military establishment. TGS Chief Ilker Basbug has repeatedly asserted the documents are invalid. As this assertion has been called into question, calls for his resignation have begun to build. If the Cicek document is somehow proven to be authentic, and if senior TGS officials admit their involvement, the pressure on Basbug could increase geometrically. Tax Fines as a "Regulatory" Tool --------------------------------
5. (C) The Government of Turkey slammed independent Dogan Media Group on September 8 with a record $2.5 billion fine for alleged tax evasion, relaunching a direct assault on Turkey's largest non-pro-government media group and dramatically intensifying concerns about the state of press freedom in Turkey. The fine was larger than the value of the company itself, providing the appearance of an excessively punitive fine for simple tax evasion charges.
The Dogan Group's papers have tended to be harsh critics of GOT and AKP policies, fueling public perceptions that the fine had ANKARA 00001691 002 OF 003 not-so-subtle motives. While the veracity of the tax crimes Dogan is charged with is unclear, few have come to the defense of the Dogan group's business practices, and many intimate to us that the underlying charges against Dogan are probably justified. Finance Minister Simsek, in a private conversation with the Ambassador (reftel) made this point authoritatively. What is not in question, however, is the fact that the huge fine has had a chilling effect on media reporting on AKP policies.
6. (C) The deeper problem is that the Turkish statist philosophy and system is very heavy-handed, and the state has extraordinary powers. For instance, it can, without any court decision, levy tax estimates, fines, and interest on an economic entity like Dogan Holding through administrative regulations equivalent to more than the stock value of the entire holding, without any court decision or recourse to courts before having to pay. Although the companies have recourse to the courts after payment, in a situation like Dogan that court case would come far too late to save the company, its employees, or its newspapers. In essence, it is providing a judicial power to the executive. Compromising Ministries of Justice and Interior Staff --------------------------------------------- --------
7. (C) Turkey's secularists have complained constantly over the years that AKP is slowly turning the various ministries and bureaucracies into havens for party activists and followers of the Fethullah Gulen movement. The first such allegations were made against the Interior Ministry, with claims that the national police had been thoroughly infiltrated with Gulenists. (Note: An informal survey of Mission law enforcement personnel does suggest a large increase in observant Muslims serving in senior police positions. End note.)
An unusual number of positions at the MFA remained vacant for many months, allegedly because the AKP inner circle sought candidates who were at least not openly hostile to their policies. The current battlefield appears to be the Justice Ministry, which came to light recently when the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors attempted to reassign the Ergenekon prosecutors. During the dispute, the members of the Board complained that the Minister had made it impossible for them to perform their duty of properly assessing the performance of the prosecutors because he had not released to the Board more than 100 complaints against the prosecutors filed by their peers. In the meantime, the government had floated the idea of either increasing the number of justices sitting on the Constitutional Court or splitting the Court in two, prompting accusations from the opposition that AKP is trying to stack the court system with pro-AKP judges.
8. (C) In the past month, allegations surfaced that the Ministry of Justice had allowed wiretapping of its own judges and prosecutors -- albeit within the scope of the Ergenekon trial. Those under investigation include prosecutors who have opened cases against the AKP, such as the chief prosecutor in Sincan who has been pushing to try President Gul for his earlier alleged embezzlement of Refah Party funds. Judges under investigation include some of the Ergenekon judges themselves and members of the Court of Appeals. The secularist press asserts that the information gleaned by these wiretaps would be used either to have the targets disbarred for alleged "membership" in Ergenekon, have them removed from cases for conflict of interest -- or simply as leverage over them to influence their rulings. Comment -------
9. (C) The Turkish government system's potential vulnerabilities to manipulation are becoming more exposed as the AKP steps up its efforts to weaken or eliminate its opposition. Not surprisingly, secular elites, including the military, are alarmed. These are the same elites, of course, who comprised or lent their support to the "deep state" -- which itself used less than democratic tactics -- so their discomfort now should be seen in that context. Moreover, behind all of this lurks the spectre of "political Islam."
The AKP claims it supports democracy, but many suspect only because of -- and only to the extent it supports -- the ANKARA 00001691 003 OF 003 Turkish majority's Islamic instincts and desire for a more Islamic state (allowing headscarves and banning alcohol, for starters). Conversely, the traditional secular elites have used the "Islamic threat" for generations to curb democratic expression and maintain a sense of siege, supporting their own agenda. Still, Erdogan and the AKP's attempts to consolidate power seems to be eroding pluralism in Turkey, and this is cause for concern.
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