On This Day


On This Day: Turkish Government Collapses Amidst Corruption Allegations

November 25, 2008 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Nov. 25, 1998, charges that Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz tampered with a state bank's $600 million sale and had mafia connections led to a no-confidence vote.

Turkish PM Mesut Yilmaz Hit With Corruption Charges

Mesut Yilmaz came to power during a period of national rejuvenation after the 1980 military coup. His center-right Motherland Party had sought to liberalize Turkey’s economy after decades of statist fiscal intervention. At the same time, he tried to satisfy both the secular populace, who sought accession to the European Union, and the growing number of Islamist voters.

Rising through the ranks of his party under the tutelage of Prime Minister Turgut Ozal, Yilmaz himself ascended to the premier's position on three occasions. It was his last period of tenure that saw his downfall.

Already under scrutiny from the staunchly secular government due to his moves to appease social conservatives, which included lifting a ban on women wearing Islamic headscarves in public schools, Yilmaz’s government lost a 314–214 “no-confidence” vote in parliament on Nov. 25, 1998.

This occurred in an atmosphere of suspicion created by two years of leaks to the media regarding the prime minister’s connections to organized crime, accusations that fostered an increasing distrust of secularist parties.

At the time, Stephen Kinzer, Istanbul correspondent for The New York Times, wrote, “Polls suggest that if an election were held today, the Islamic party would finish strongly, perhaps even in first place, as it did in the 1996 election.”

Yilmaz was tried and found innocent of the corruption charges in 2005–06. He was re-elected to parliament in July 2007.

The collapse of Yilmaz's government marked a shift in the country's political composition that paved the way for the victory of the Islamist-rooted AK Parti in the 2002 parliamentary elections. The AK Parti still holds the parliamentary majority, and in 2007 saw one of its members, Abdullah Gul, become president.

Historical Context: The tug of war between secularists and Islamists

In a March 13, 1998 BBC article, Ankara correspondent Chris Morris wrote that Turkey’s armed forces were growing restless under Yilmaz’s government. Morris reported that the prime minister had made too many concessions to the country’s increasingly powerful Islamist voters. Representatives from the military criticized Yilmaz for lifting a ban on headscarves in public schools. The armed forces saw this as a serious affront to the secular republic, which the nation's constitution says they are charged to uphold.

“The influence which the military still holds over political life is undeniable,” Morris writes. “It's one of the issues which is raised by Turkey's allies in the West, when they argue that this country has yet to become a fully functioning democracy.”

Key Player: Mesut Yilmaz

The European Institute for Research on Mediterranean and Euro-Arab Cooperation (MEDEA) writes that Mesut Yilmaz was “a supporter of a market economy and of closer links between Turkey and the European Union.”

Yilmaz entered the political scene in 1983 as a follower of Prime Minister Turgut Ozal and his center-right Motherland Party (MP), which was known for instituting sweeping, liberalizing economic reforms while still reaching out to the poorer, religious sectors of society. He served two terms as prime minister, during which he steered the MP away from its religious supporters, driving those individuals toward the Islamic Welfare Party, which gained power in 1996. In February 1997, the Welfare Party was ousted, and by June of that year Yilmaz was again prime minister. Allegations of collusion with the mafia tainted his career, and his government collapsed after a “no-confidence” vote in November 1998. Yilmaz stood trial in 2005 for corruption but was found innocent the following year. He was elected as a member of parliament in the July 2007 elections.

Opinion & Analysis: The charges against Yilmaz

Ilnur Cevik, former publisher of the Turkish Daily News, wrote that the allegations against Mesut Yilmaz were baseless and were made by politicians looking to profit at the prime minister’s expense. “Commission after commission cleared Yilmaz of all charges of corruption and irregularities, which led to criticism in the press.”

In the aftermath of the no-confidence vote, more and more Turkish political leaders felt the pressure to step down. Daily newspaper Sabah ran a headline alongside a photo of Yilmaz and another deposed prime minister, Tansu Ciller, saying, “Enough! The Nation Doesn’t Want to See Any More of You!”

Reference: Turkey


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