Turkey finds itself amidst a growing sex tape scandal. It has led to 10 resignations within the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the nationalist opposition party. Parliament head Mehmet Ali Şahin has argued that the scandal targets no individual political party and threatens the country’s entire political system. However, the allegations center on the sexual activity of members of the MHP, the party clearly harmed the most throughout the process.
The Global Integrity Report: 2010 notes that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) used legal loopholes in the past decade to obtain independent media outlets and sell them to AKP supporters. Additionally, the report found “In 2002, pro-AKP businesses owned less than 20 percent of the Turkish media; today, pro-government businesses own around 50 percent.” Prime Minister Erdogan denied any connection to the tapes, attempting to silence accusations from MHP leader Devlet Bahceli, the first to resign, that the AKP and religious groups were behind the scandal.
While the AKP is expected to win a third term in a June 12 vote, nationalist blocs and the MHP’s presence in Parliament will factor largely into the AKP’s ability to draft a new constitution. Recent polls predict 13% of the vote for the MHP in a country where political parties need at least 10% to enter Parliament. If the MHP fails to reach this threshold, its seats will be redistributed amongst those parties that do make it into Parliament. Negative media coverage of the MHP increases the chances that the AKP could reach the 367 seat “supermajority” needed to pass a Constitution without a referendum.
Why does that matter? The Islamic-leaning AKP view a new Turkish constitution as a continuation of the constitutional amendments adopted in 1987 and 2001 that aimed to improve human rights conditions and bolster the country’s democracy. Since Turkey’s 1987 accession application to the European Union (EU), reforms have been made to meet EU political and economic criteria. But secularists are more wary. A new constitution potentially threatens the separation of religion and state made famous by the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and bolsters the AKP’s influence over the nation. The ruling government has been harshly criticized by opposition forces for its weak pursuit of the perpetrators behind the current MHP scandal.
Government is not alone in its struggles to bring wrongdoing to light in Turkey. Global Integrity’s data suggest that Turkey’s media itself has difficulty reporting on corruption issues. Such findings were validated not only in the ongoing sex scandal but also in the coverage of the “Lighthouse” case, opened in Germany in 2007 against the Turkish religious charity Lighthouse e.V. alleging that donations were embezzled by German and Turkish companies. Following three convictions in 2008 for the illegal transfer of €18.6 million to companies in Turkey from the charity, the fraud investigation broadened to include media groups close to the AKP. The AKP has denied the accusations, and PM Erdoğan has since accused political opponents and media outlets of defamation.
Apart from the salacious details of the current sex tape scandal, what is most worrisome is the potential that skewed media coverage in Turkey could lead to long-lasting governance reforms (whether for good or for ill) in the form of a new constitution not ratified by the public. While we often encourage quick as opposed to incremental change when it comes to institutional reform, Turkey may unfortunately be an example of going too far in the other direction.
— Marc Moson