Turkey's moral framework crumbles under weight of corruption and deceit

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The Independent Online
The Turks have a saying for their predicament: the water is running from everywhere, except from the taps.

Any lingering doubts about the crumbling moral framework of republican politics were put to rest by the latest star of the soap opera that passes for is public life in Turkey.

"My husband is an honest man. I am proud of him. Our society needs such honest, straight-talking people," Zuhre Parsadan told a mob of Turkish reporters after her husband's arrest.

"But he was a swindler," remonstrated one reporter. Mr Selcuk Parsadan had boasted of his success in conning the equivalent of pounds 50,000 from Tansu Ciller - part of a mounting controversy surrounding her two-and-a-half- year tenure as prime minister, until this March.

"Yes, I know. But all he did was change his name," said Mrs Parsadan, chic, poised and utterly unfazed behind her dark glasses. "Apart from that, he's straight. He just convinces people easily. He will defend himself in court and win."

Turkey has become so punch-drunk with corruption and slurs that Mr Parsadan, fearing that he would be murdered, spent weeks trying to persuade a dubious media that he was not a real swindler at all.

Politics is no different. Turks watched in disbelief as the two centre- right coalition partners in government insulted and conspired against each other, as if this had no bearing on their right to lead the country.

Mrs Ciller, who pulled out of the coalition early on Saturday,had been accused by Prime Minster Mesut Yilmaz of embezzling pounds 6,000,000 just before leaving office. She called him a "mud-slinger" who should "resign immediately" since their two-month-old government had "achieved nothing".

The gutsy Mrs Ciller can hardly talk, however, having failed while in office to implement any of her sweeping promises to reform the economy, to give university education to all or to fund an economic revival of the Kurdish south-east. One caricaturist draws her faceless, a visual pun on the Turkish for bare-faced lying.

Meanwhile, Turkey's two rival left-wing parties are involved in an equally sterile and irresponsible battle. And as faith in the republican system subsides, public opinion is swinging towards the pro- Islamic Welfare Party.

But only up to a point. Welfare Party leader Necmettin Erbakan is also behaving shiftily, in between a new round of outrageous slurs against Armenians and Jews.

Despite his vicious attacks on Mrs Ciller for her millions, he and his brother have become rich land-owners in a way difficult to explain with throw-away comments like "I have a summer house and a winter house. The rest is just palaver".

And, despite their supposedly irreconcilable political and moral differences, the Turks watched in amazement as Mr Erbakan and Mrs Ciller quietly agreed to bury the hatchets until after a round of municipal by-elections on 2 June.

They may even be plotting to form a new government, thus allowing Mrs Ciller to break her one remaining campaign promise - never to deal with the Islamists - and forgetting the insults she slung at Mr Yilmaz for doing exactly the same thing.

The Turks have to look a long way back to the glory days of the early republic to remind themselves how simple and relatively clean things used to be, since the economic miracle and get-rich-quick mentality inspired by the late Turkish leader Turgut Ozal is also turning out to have had a seamy side.

One of his state bank chiefs, shot and wounded by a mafia hitman and sent to jail for accepting bribes, has now disappeared. He is presumed to have joined a number of other "princes" of the Ozal period, including his son Ahmet, living abroad due to allegations of corruption.

Turkish newspapers showed a link between Mr Ozal's family and a well- known Turkish gangster in the mafia shooting case, but even the Turkish underground is getting sloppy. When someone was hired to kill one of those implicated in the case, it all went wrong.

The press was tipped off the day before, inspiring the police to check the courtroom where the murder was about to take place.

"Of course I didn't know about the tip-off, you think I'd be here if I did?" the would-be murderer later complained after being divested of his wig and false lawyer's gown. "I just didn't have time to read the newspapers before going to work."

At times of political turmoil like this, the powerful Turkish military, author of three coups and numerous interventions since 1960, gets restive. Frustrated warnings have been surfacing in the English-language Turkish Daily News from "authoritative sources" demanding proper government.

The army will probably have to continue trying to twist political arms from this distance, however, since direct intervention will be hard to justify. Turkish businesses and provincial cities, shrugging their shoulders at the mess in Ankara, are all doing well enough.

The generals, who see guarding the secular government of their mostly Muslim republic as a sacred duty, might instead consider one aspect of the "honest swindler" Mr Parsadan's case. He was able to get money out of Mrs Ciller, he claims, because he convinced her that he was a retired general setting up an association to "promote secularism".

Nobody in Turkey has yet concentrated their minds on this extraordinary admission that, 73 years after the founding of the secular republic, it is considered normal for secret service money to be deployed to keep the Islamists at bay.