In the eyes of many dissenting Turks, the authoritarian power of their Prime Minister is under pressure as perhaps never before.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK party is seen to have suffered a blow.
This comes amid widespread concerns that the independence of the judiciary could be abused in the investigation into a vast corruption scandal involving ministers in Erdogan’s government.
The day after early arrests, he spoke of political manipulations.
He said: “This is an extremely dirty operation.”
At the weekend, the Erdogan government changed police rules, so investigating officers have to report evidence, arrests and complaints to commanding officers and prosecutors.
Ankara’s fight against the judiciary’s anti-corruption probe has seen him sack or reassign some 70 of the police officers involved, including the chief of the Istanbul force. The prime minister’s supporters rallied in his defence.
The latest scandal has laid bare rivalry between Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric now based in the US, whose Hizmet movement claims at least one million followers, including senior police and judges, and which also runs schools and charities across Turkey and abroad.
While not named in the affair, and denying any role in it, after the premier portrayed himself as fending off an international conspiracy, Gulen said Erdogan’s thinking had “decayed”.
Gulen’s Hizmet (“Service”) movement even has members within the ruling AK party. Any alliance the party had with it – which sealed the AK’s electoral success up until 2011 – began to fall apart several months ago.
A decision in November to close one of the confraternity’s educational establishments brought a raising of shields, and the departure from Erdogan’s party of two members of parliament.
The resignations of the interior, economy and environment ministers over corruption allegations involving state-run lender Halkbank contributed to reigniting anti-government feeling, which has been simmering since mass street-protests halfway through this year. One of the most recent protest rallies in Istanbul was forcibly dispersed by the police.
Gulen’s supporters have emerged among the main opposition groups in Turkey, and will be considering municipal and presidential elections scheduled in the new year. Protesters carried cash-filled shoeboxes like those allegedly seized at corruption suspects’ homes.