A graft scandal involving individuals close to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his cabinet erupted on December 17. Subsequently, the government has removed a string of police chiefs and officers as well as members of the judiciary from their posts claiming that there is a “conspiracy” directed against the government. The PM referred to a long list of conspirators, including unnamed ambassadors that he threatened with expulsion.
However, supporters of Erdogan have identified Fetullah Gülen, the head of a religiously conservative civil society movement that enjoys broad-based societal support and is alleged to have sympathisers in the ranks of the Turkish National Police and judiciary, as the primary culprit. Gülen, who has lived in the US since the late 1990s, was a long-time ally and supporter of the PM's Justice and Development Party (AKP). Relations between the PM and Gülen’s movement had been deteriorating for some time on a wide spectrum of issues, ranging from relations with Israel to Erdogan's recent attempt to have the lucrative prep schools shut down.
The corruption scandal comes at an unfortunate time for the government as Turkey enters an 18-month-long election cycle that will see local elections in March, presidential elections in August and a parliamentary one in mid-2015. The resulting instability from the corruption scandal also coincides with a period when Turkey’s international image has been tarnished and its foreign policy faces growing challenges in a deeply unstable neighbourhood.
The AKP first came to power in 2002, after many years of unstable coalition governments composed of political parties that had long been implicated in widespread corruption. The party chose for itself consciously the acronym AK, meaning “clean”, to distance itself from the others. They also promised the electorate greater freedoms, economic reforms and a commitment to EU membership. This approach paid off as the party was swept into power decisively and succeeded in delivering on its promises, ensuring for itself two additional massive electoral successes in 2007 and 2011. During these years, political reforms improved the quality of Turkish democracy to a point where, in 2005, EU membership accession talks were able to begin.
Meanwhile, the Turkish economy boomed, fast becoming the 17th largest economy in the world and larger than all but five EU countries. It was also during this period that the minister of foreign affairs, Ahmet Davutoglu, launched his “zero problems with neighbours” policy to promote friendlier relations with