For Americans used to dealing with a very unpopular legislature that takes itself very seriously, the raucousness of parliamentary democracy in most other parts of the world may come as a surprise. Turkey is perhaps one of the best examples of this phenomenon, with Turkish politicians regularly trading both literal and figurative ad hominem attacks. Last week, Turks were treated to a particularly juicy war of words between two high level members of the ruling AKP, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc and the mayor of Ankara Melih Gokcek.
The very public fight between the two politicians was triggered by comments Arinc made regarding President Recep Tayip Erdogan’s involvement in ongoing political negotiations between the Turkish government and Turkey’s Kurdish population. After Erdogan criticized the government’s handling of the situation, Arinc publically asked Erdogan to stop meddling and let the government do its work.
Gokcek slammed Arinc’s criticism in a series of tweets in which he accused Arinc of being a member of the Gulen movement and insisted Arinc be dismissed. Arinc responded by holding a press conference in which he accused Gokcek of being a Gulenist, rude, and corrupt. The accusations of corruption, which suggested Gokcek had won his last election through fraud, triggered a formal investigation by the Ankara prosecutor. Ironically, both men are the subject of the inquiry – Gokcek for corruption and Arinc for allegedly covering it up.
There is no clear “good guy” in this fight. During his long tenure as mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek has been notorious for championing useless and wasteful development projects while failing to take care of basic infrastructure problems like Ankara’s lack of potable tap water. He is known for suing ordinary citizens for insulting him on Twitter while simultaneously using his Twitter account to spread malicious rumors, including accusing a reporter during the Gezi protests of being a British spy.
Bulent Arinc is also no liberal democrat and has a penchant for expressing misogynist opinions, including that women should refrain from laughing in public.
Analysts are still debating how these divisions within the AKP leadership and increasing expressions of discontent with Erdogan’s power plays will affect the AKP’s domination of parliament and Erdogan’s control over the party. Some see them as signs the AKP is on the verge of breaking apart while others believe this is a flash in the pan, rather than a sign of significant change.
I tend to believe this fight is only the latest in a series of incidents highlighting discontent within the AKP regarding the party’s political direction and Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism. Others have already written some very good and detailed takes on the situation, such as here and here.
Turkish politics is many things, depressing, corrupt, manipulative and even at times heartening, but it is certainly never boring.