David O'Byrne in Istanbul -
Given his generally poorly disguised suspicion of most things American, it's debatable whether Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would ever admit to having heard of "the three corollaries" of former Republican Party strategist Roger Stone. However, in his address to his parliamentary group on February 25, Erdogan gave a perfect demonstration of Stone's mantra of: "Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack".
Not for the first time since December 17, when allegations of corruption following a series of police raids first sent shock waves through the Turkish capital Ankara, Erdogan has had plenty to deny. The past two months have seen the release onto the internet of a series of illicitly recorded phone conversations, many involving the prime minister, all hinting at illegal or questionable activity.
The latest of these appearing on the internet late on February 24 purports to be phone calls held between the Turkish prime minister and his son Bilal Erdogan, apparently recorded on December 17 following police raids on the homes of the sons of three senior government ministers. In the recordings, the two appear to discuss the hiding of large sums of money held at a number of family homes. Several sums of money are mentioned, including one of $25m and another of €30m, while an "explanatory note" accompanying the recording alleges that the total sum is over €1bn, stashed at five separate addresses.
In a written statement and later addressing his parliamentary group in a speech televised live on most Turkish TV channels, Erdogan closely followed Stone's three corollaries.
Denouncing the recordings as fake - "montaged and dubbed" - he stopped short of denying or admitting the voices in the recordings were genuine, and denied any wrongdoing, pointing out that he had previously responded to rumours of such recordings by calling on those responsible to publish them.
Launching counterattacks on those he held responsible for what he described as a "treacherous" plot against the prime ministry and an attempt to unseat his government, he accused Turkey's two main opposition parties of seeking to profit from the "fake" recordings, alleging that being unable to succeed at the ballot box they were obliged to look for help "from across the ocean".
The latter comment is believed to be a veiled reference to exiled Islamic scholar Fetullah Gulen, whose Hizmet movement was formerly a strong supporter of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), but with whom relations have recently been strained.
In addition, Erdogan chose to blame a number of groups he claimed were working in unison to destabilise the country: the "preacher lobby" - believed to be another reference to Gulen; the "interest rate lobby" - a mysterious group he blamed for last summer's anti-government protests, and which has been variously interpreted as referring to either "bankers", "Jews" or both, and which he alleged was attempting to destabilise the economy; the "robot lobby" - an even more mysterious group he claimed uses Twitter and other social media; a "media lobby", which appears to refer to those parts of the Turkish media that still dare to criticise him; and the "international lobby", which appears to cover anyone or any organisation outside Turkey that might criticise him.
More worryingly, perhaps, Erdogan also warned that his party could use the same tactics (of "montaged" recordings) against the leaders of Turkey's opposition parties, which if nothing else suggests that the month leading up to Turkey's local elections on March 31 should prove more entertaining than even the most hardened and cynical Turkey watchers had supposed.
Urged to do a Yanu
Following Erdogan's AKP parliamentary meeting, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the main opposition party, the left-of-centre nationalist Republican People's Party, held a meeting of his parliamentary group in which he played a recording of the alleged conversations between Erdogan and his son - a move which prompted most Turkish TV channels to cut live coverage rather than face possible legal action.
In an uncharacteristically bullish speech, the normally mild-mannered Kilicdaroglu launched a furious attack on Erdogan, claiming that his party had had the disputed recordings checked and verified as genuine. A liar cannot be the prime minister. It's the first time in our history that we see a prime minister robbing his people," Kilicdaroglu said, calling on Erdogan to either resign or "take a helicopter and flee" - the latter an apparent reference to the recent unsightly departure of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
However scandalous the allegations raised by the disputed recordings may be, fleeing is unlikely to feature on a list of options Erdogan might have drawn up. And however outlandish and paranoid his accusations of plots and plotters may appear, few still doubt that he is the indeed the victim of a plot to unseat him, with most fingers pointing to the Pennsylvania-based Gulen, who has, through lawyers, denied any involvement.
That, though, is where the sympathies of all but the most hardened AKP supporters stop.
Others point out that despite Gulen's Hizmet movement having been effectively outlawed under previous secular governments, Erdogan was more than happy for its support in the past three general elections.
Then there were the long-running trials against senior military personnel and others, which saw dozens jailed for alleged coup plots on the strength of evidence critics have alleged was fabricated by Gulen supporters aiming to break the strength of the Turkish military, which had previously seen itself as the power of last resort in Turkish politics. Those trials appear to have succeeded in ending the military's role in politics, but at the expense of a new power struggle between Hizmet and the AKP, which has responded to allegations of graft by removing hundreds of police and judiciary tasked with investigating such allegations.
In his address to his parliamentary group on February 25, Erdogan claimed that he still enjoyed the support of the Turkish people and that they will answer his critics at the ballot box on March 30. It remains to be seen whether they will accept his invitation to be part of his counterattack.
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