Audio recordings reveal Erdoğan’s desire to control, engineer everything

Recently leaked audio recordings featuring Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as lead “actor” have revealed that Erdoğan, as the all-powerful prime minister, is as busy micro-managing a multitude of other issues as he is with governing the country.

During the past week, Erdoğan confirmed the authenticity of a recording in which he can be heard meddling in the judiciary by ordering the justice minister to “closely monitor” judicial proceedings to ensure that a media mogul would not get off scot-free.

The prime minister, who has been in power for 11 years, dismissed criticism directed at him regarding the recording, saying it was appropriate that he told former Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin to keep an eye on a court case concerning Aydın Doğan, the honorary chairman of Doğan Holding.

After a lower court ruled in Doğan’s favor in a trial regarding allegations that he broke the Capital Markets Law, Ergin can be heard in the recording telling Erdoğan not to worry because the case would go to the Assembly of Criminal Chambers of the Supreme Court of Appeals for a final decision.

To justify his interference, Erdoğan maintains that Doğan was involved in “parallel structures and dirty relations.” Erdoğan said, “This required me to tell [Ergin] to closely follow the case,” adding that he wanted this for “his country and nation.”

In another leaked audio recording that Erdoğan has admitted is genuine, the prime minister is involved in tender-rigging. In the tape, Erdoğan instructs a well-known shipping magnate, Metin Kalkavan, to engineer the reopening of a public bid on the national warship project (MİLGEM).

In the phone conversation, which reportedly took place in April 2013, Erdoğan asks Kalkavan to say that the necessary conditions for competition had not been met in the initial bidding for MİLGEM. Although Kalkavan tells Erdoğan that his company had not made a preliminary application for the bid, Erdoğan insists that Kalkavan submit a petition to the Prime Ministry’s Coordination Center (BİMER).

Ayhan Kaya, director of the European Institute at İstanbul Bilgi University, notes that Erdoğan’s attitude very much resembles that of King Louis XIV of France, who is believed to have said, “I am the state.”

“Particularly following the [general] elections in 2011, he started to act like Louis XIV of France,” Kaya told Sunday’s Zaman.

“Due to a state tradition [in Turkey] based on clientelism and patronage, over time he has managed to also have the bureaucracy and the private sector submit to him,” Kaya said.  

The MİLGEM contract, which was awarded to Koç Holding subsidiary RMK Marine for $2.5 billion in January 2013, was canceled by the Defense Industry Implementation Committee (SSİK) in September 2013. At a meeting chaired by Erdoğan and attended by Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, the SSİK approved a report prepared by the Inspection Board of the Prime Ministry on the MİLGEM contract that stated that the public interest was not properly served in the tender.

In another phone call, alleged to be from Sept. 27, 2013, Erdoğan is claimed to have talked to Kalkavan again, instructing him to offer a competitive price in the new bidding for the MİLGEM project. The prime minister has justified his phone conversations with Kalkavan by saying that a businessman who had been sidelined during the tender had appealed to him. But the recordings, if genuine, clearly show Erdoğan instructing Kalkavan to apply for the bid.

Instead of concentrating on governing the country, as is usual for prime ministers in democracies, Erdoğan has apparently been deeply involved in all sorts of meddling throughout his years in power. He seems to see himself as all-powerful since winning the general election of 2011, his ruling party’s third victory in a row since the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power at the end of 2002. He almost takes it as a natural right for him to shape not only the bureaucracy, but also the judiciary, the media and the business world, according to what has been revealed in the recordings.

In an audio recording uploaded to YouTube mid-week, Erdoğan is also allegedly heard discussing with former Justice Minister Ergin how to intervene in the election for president of the Council of State that took place last year on behalf of a female candidate.

The recording apparently features the prime minister instructing Ergin to pressure Nevzat Özgür to withdraw his bid for the presidency of the top court that regulates administrative affairs and could cancel government bills and projects if it considers them contrary to the constitution and relevant laws.

The jostling for influence within the Council of State is of utmost importance for the government, given that the court has rejected some public projects worth billions of dollars. The Council of State is also reviewing the appeals of hundreds of public servants, mostly police officers and police chiefs, who have recently been demoted or reassigned during the ongoing corruption investigation.

According to the leaked recording, Erdoğan instructed the justice minister to talk with Özgür to persuade him to withdraw to ensure the election of Zerrin Güngör, the candidate for whom Erdoğan allegedly pressed to be elected as head of the Council of State.

The media, as previously leaked recordings have revealed, has certainly not been exempt from the prime minister’s meddling. According to one, Erdoğan allegedly interfered with the Habertürk news channel by instructing Fatih Saraç, deputy chairman of the Ciner Media Group which owns the Habertürk daily and news channel, to immediately remove a news ticker with a statement by the leader of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Erdoğan allegedly gave Saraç instructions over the phone to stop a news ticker in which MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli called on President Abdullah Gül to intervene and decrease the tension during the Gezi Park protests, which rocked the country at the beginning of last summer.

“It is very surprising. … There is no need for such things [to be displayed on television],” Erdoğan allegedly told Saraç on June 4, 2013, while on an official visit to Morocco. According to the voice recording, Saraç responded to Erdoğan, who was apparently vexed by the MHP leader’s comment that the president should intervene, thereby sidelining the prime minister, “I will deal with it immediately, sir.”

According to Kaya, Erdoğan tends to see himself as both a temporal and a religious authority, based on which he justifies all his actions.

In yet another alleged case of media interference by Erdoğan, the prime minister is apparently heard in a recording leaked toward the end of last month telling Ciner Group’s Saraç to take a program on Show TV, also a Ciner Media Group channel, off the air mid-broadcast. The program, which aired on June 14 and in which presenter Saba Tümer was hosting Yaşar Nuri Öztürk, a leading theologian, was cut short 20 minutes before the usual time, Öztürk later claimed.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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