Nepotism in Turkey has reached new levels, intensified under AK Party rule

Due to a lack of meritocracy in the political culture, nepotism has always existed in Turkish society, but the problem has intensified and gained almost official status, political observers speaking to Sunday’s Zaman agree.

Similar to many developing or underdeveloped countries, nepotism — which is defined as patronage bestowed or favoritism shown on the basis of family relationship, as in business and politics — has always been prevalent in Turkey. During job applications, particularly for government posts, a relative or an acquaintance in politics used to play a key role in admission. With the introduction of the State Personnel Examination (KPSS) in 2002, nepotism in government jobs has been reduced to a certain extent at least in the written examination, although “having an uncle in politics” still helps in the oral interviews.

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government’s plan to abolish the KPSS was made public in April and is known to be a result of direct orders from then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Following the unfolding of the massive corruption allegations against the AK Party government since December 2013 with leaked tape recordings, it turns out that nepotism has had an unprecedentedly large scope under the AK Party. For example, some of the tapes showed that Bosporus 360 General Manager Abdülkerim Çay, who was a classmate of Erdoğan’s son Bilal in high school, was allegedly granted privileges and established a partnership with Bilal Erdoğan that resulted in financial gains.

Appointment of pro-government professors as presidents of universities, of openly partisan bureaucrats to state TV stations and the classmates of ministers as governors regardless of their qualifications has become more open and common.

Mehmet Altan, a professor of economics at İstanbul University and a newspaper columnist, says that what Turkey is currently witnessing is much worse than nepotism. According to him, loyalty, not merit, matters in appointments in Turkey, since the country has not had the features of a state since December. Altan argues that Turkey is going through a coup period, because a coup is defined as “a suspension of the constitutional order.”

Last week, a new governor was appointed to İstanbul province, which is considered the most prestigious position for a governor in Turkey. The new governor, Vasip Şahin, said that he was not expecting such a promotion as he previously served as the governor of a relatively small province in eastern Turkey. It turned out that Şahin was a classmate of Interior Minister Efkan Ala, who began his role in the Cabinet following the corruption probes in December. Even the new governor himself said in surprise that he was not expecting such a heavy responsibility.

According to Altan, the current administration of Turkey aims to establish a cadre that is completely loyal to it and would not object to being their partners in violating laws. “They [current government officials] are scared of laws and disobey court rulings,” Altan says.

Particularly since December, AK Party officials have been glorifying their public support as proof of the lack of public support for the importance of the judiciary and the separation of powers in Turkey. “If everything is decided at the ballot box, then the people should give the verdict in murder cases instead of a court,” Altan said, pointing out the flaws in the argument of the AK Party and Erdoğan.

İhsan Dağı, a professor of international relations at Middle East Technical University (METU), says that even without conducting research, it is obvious that nepotism has become increasingly prevalent in Turkey. According to him, politics has always been a tool to deliver unearned income in Turkey, but with the AK Party, the state began to dominate all domains in politics and society.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Aykan Erdemir says that in the past, nepotism was something to be ashamed of and done secretly, but it has become open in the last couple of years.

Another example of the promotion of classmates is the case of İbrahim Eren, who was also a classmate of Bilal Erdoğan. In January he was appointed to the board of Türk Telekom. Similarly, Yiğit Bulut, an aide of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was also appointed as a board member of Türk Telekom after he became a staunch supporter of Erdoğan, even though he was a fierce critic a few years ago.

Erdemir says that nepotism has become a part of the “formal mechanisms” in Turkey as the idea of a “party state” has strengthened. “The power of the government bends the conscience of the people,” the deputy said.

In response to a question concerning the rumors that semi-private companies such as Turkish Airlines (THY) have people on its payroll to benefit from the high salaries in the firm even though they actually work for the AK Party, Erdemir says that these stories are frequently heard, since the private sector has become a part of the nepotism trap.

Although all three experts agree that nepotism has been on rise in Turkey, Dağı says that it has never been this bad, because now even the civil society sector is looking for state handouts.

“When the state is dominant, it distributes resources in an arbitrary manner,” Dağı notes, adding that in Turkey, the current government buys loyalty like never before.

According to Dağı, the “redistributive power” of the state served the interests of the elite in the past in Turkey, but with the growth of the Turkish economy, the government now delivers resources to poor segments of society as well. In other words, the patronage principle now affects everyone in Turkey.

What is the remedy to this long-established but worsening problem in Turkey? According to Erdemir, the system will not change unless the country pays such a high price for its nepotism that it misses the information economy age.

Altan, however, draws a bleaker picture.

In response to a question about what the future holds for Turkey, Altan says “whatever happens in a jungle,” likening the situation to the Wild West in old America. He complains about the lack of large-scale peaceful forms of civil disobedience in the face of massive corruption or Erdoğan’s efforts to sink a private bank, Bank Asya, due to his hatred of the Hizmet movement. Altan suggests that millions of people should line up and open accounts with Bank Asya to protest the arbitrary practices in Turkey.

When asked what he does to protest against nepotism in Parliament, Erdemir says that he submits parliamentary questions to record cases of systematic discrimination, especially those based on gender, religion and ethnicity.

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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