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Erdoğan: Immunity for Me but not for Thee

When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey almost a decade ago, it promoted itself as a clean alternative after years of governance by corrupt parties and politicians. Many Turkish politicians made no secret of their desire to hold seats in parliament in order to shield themselves behind parliamentary immunity. The most prominent case was Cem Uzan, who created a party and almost bought his way into parliament after, as courts subsequently confirmed, he defrauded Motorola of more than a billion dollars.

AKP leader and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his allies, however, have been just as corrupt. As mayor of Istanbul and subsequently prime minister, Erdoğan accumulated tens of millions of dollars; as of 2008, before he completed his take-over of the judiciary, he faced 13 separate corruption cases. He retains immunity so long as he remains in parliament, but as soon as he leaves office, he is fair game for any independent prosecutor who remains. So too are his cabinet ministers who together face almost three dozen separate corruption probes. One Wikileaks cable reported AKP informants accusing several trusted Erdoğan aides—most notably current Minister for European Affairs Egemin Bağış—of corruption. Regarding Erdoğan, it said, “We have heard from two contacts that Erdogan has eight accounts in Swiss banks; his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdogan children in the U.S. purely altruistically are lame.”

In subsequent years, Erdoğan has directed millions in bank loans and contracts to Çalik Holdings, run by a friend and managed by Erdoğan’s son-in-law.

Now Erdoğan has decreed—in a manner more befitting a dictator than a democrat—that he will strip parliamentary immunity exclusively from members of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), a group which often advocates for Kurdish rights but which Erdoğan accuses of sympathy for the Kurdish insurgents (PKK). Erdoğan accuses BDP deputies of meeting with the PKK, though Erdoğan himself welcomed Hamas into the Turkish parliament, defended donations to an Al Qaeda financier, and had his intelligence chief conduct secret talks with the PKK. The problem with the BDP appears less its advocacy for Kurdish rights in Turkey, but rather its failure to follow blindly the Turkish strongman.