Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif was removed from his position on July 28, 2017, by the country’s Supreme Court based on the findings of a corruption probe launched after the leak of the Panama Papers.
The Supreme Court ruled that Sharif could no longer serve as president because of the alleged links to offshore accounts and overseas luxury apartments owned by three of his children. The Panama Papers disclosed the existence of the apartments in April 2016, yet these properties were not listed on the family’s wealth statement. In the wake of a unanimous court verdict, Sharif resigned from his position.
In Turkey, meanwhile, police investigations allegedly based on extensive solid evidence and announced on December 17 and 25, 2013, linked President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and members of his family to acts of corruption. The first investigation on December 17 revealed that Iranian facilitator Reza Zarrab allegedly gave bribes to government ministers and to Erdogan’s family members in return for circulating Iranian money that is locked because of sanctions imposed on Iran. After the announcement, Erdogan tried to portray the investigation as an attempt by police officers and prosecutors to overthrow his government. Erdogan’s allegation clearly was false. In March 2016, Zarrab was arrested by U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in Miami on charges similar to those brought by the Turkish police.
In the December 25 investigation, Erdogan’s son was allegedly charged with being a member of a corruption chain and that he took bribes in return for providing government contracts. Leaked wiretappings on YouTube show how Erdogan and his son became involved in bribery transactions worth tens of millions of dollars.
According to international indexes, corruption is endemic in Pakistan and Turkey. Pakistan, however, appears to be a more corrupt country than Turkey based on the 2016 Corruption Perception Index from Transparency International. Turkey ranks at 75 and Pakistan at 116 out of 176 countries. Nonetheless, the Pakistani reaction to presidential-level corruption is more appropriate to democratic regimes than the Turkish reaction.
Whereas Sharif resigned after the court’s verdict, Erdogan denied and refused to accept the results of corruption investigations. Instead, he steadfastly kept his position in the government.
Both leaders have similar support in parliament. While Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won half of the votes in the 2016 elections, Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party won almost more than double the votes cast for the party’s closest rival in 2013. Both leaders, therefore, received an almost equal level of sympathy from their voters. Another similarity is the corruption charges. Not only are the two leaders’ political parties charged with corruption, but also the leaders themselves and their family members are charged with corruption. Both leaders, however, hold vastly different views of democracy and the power of the rule of law.
Sharif selected the power of the rule of law and resigned, while Erdogan opted for keeping his position at the expense of the collapse of the judiciary and the democratic system. Rather than allow the judiciary to proceed with its investigations, Erdogan chose to cover up all investigations.
Erdogan’s power is based mainly on deliberately consolidating his constituents and polarizing the country. As a result, Erdogan’s proponents support the president unconditionally. His destructive approach in covering up corrupt linkages was aimed at eliminating his opponents in the government on the grounds that their continued service could lead to the reinvestigation of corrupt linkages in the future.
Immediately after the December 2013 investigations, the Erdogan government fired police officers and prosecutors, declared them to be terrorists, and put them in jail. The government then changed the laws to make it impossible to conduct anticorruption investigations.
The government so far has purged thousands of police officers, judges, and prosecutors. Although the December 2013 investigations were conducted by several tens of police officers and only two prosecutors and were based on lawful evidence, the government fired around 30,000 police officers and 4,500 judges and prosecutors out of roughly fired 120,000 civil servants.
Moreover, the media has become totally obedient to the AKP after the government shut down opposition media outlets in the wake of the December 2013 corruption scandals. The government also changed the secular constitution and adopted a presidential system. Regardless of the government’s rhetoric about creating a more stable presidential system, the real aim is to give Erdogan unlimited immunity from any investigations in the future. It should be noted that the previous parliamentary system had created a secular and democratic Turkey that many people around the world considered to be a model for bridging Islam and democracy.
Sharif, on the other hand, chose a different path than Erdogan. Sharif’s resignation reinforced the democratic gains in Pakistan. He allowed the Pakistani judiciary to investigate allegations about himself and his children. As a result of Turkey’s tradeoff between enforcing the law and giving up its independent governmental system, the country has paid significant social, political, and economic costs since December 2013 corruption scandals.
For example, Turkey is now more socially polarized. Kurds, secular individuals, and religious people who are not obedient to the government are subject to discrimination. The pro-government media shapes perceptions, fostering a hatred of Western culture. According to the recent survey conducted by Kadir Has University, the United States is the most hated country among the Turkish people. Turkish diplomatic ties with the West are about to be broken.
Turkey is experiencing a massive brain drain, as thousands of well-educated people have left the country. A massive crackdown on state institutions has precipitated the loss of institutional memory, knowledge, and experience.
It should be noted that the government’s retaliatory attitude toward its opponents has created vacuums filled by criminal and terrorist organizations. The number of trafficking and smuggling groups has boomed. Turkey has become a source country for drugs and a hub for smugglers.
ISIS militants continue to use Turkish borders to cross into Syria. Radicalization and participation in ISIS and al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria have increased. Despite intensive bloody attacks by ISIS in Turkey, the number of experienced, well-educated and law-abiding anti-terror police officers sitting in jails far exceeds the number of ISIS militants incarcerated. Turkey is now more vulnerable terrorist attacks.
Mafia-type criminal organizations that were active in the 1990s have become popular again. Previously well-known mafia leaders have been selected as philanthropist businessmen of the year in 2017.
The number of corruption cases has declined in the country. It has become impossible to launch an anti-corruption investigation without the government’s consent. The amount of criminal proceeds confiscated in Turkey has plummeted sharply, and Turkey is at risk of being added to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Money Laundering’s blacklist.
Turkey has lost one hundred years of democratic and westernized gains simply to protect Erdogan and his family. Erdogan could have allowed the corruption investigations to proceed and to distance himself and his political party from the corruption allegations.
To sum up, Sharif’s resignation reinstated Pakistani democracy and the position of the judiciary, whereas Erdogan’s efforts to cover up the corruption investigations linked to himself and his family members has destroyed the Turkish democracy. Turkey, under the constantly extended state of emergency, keeps paying the price each day.