Turkish Turmoil and Politically-Motivated Anticorruption Enforcement

At the Project Syndicate website, Dani Rodrik had a very nice commentary last month about the recent power struggles in Turkey, which have included prominent anticorruption actions against senior government figures. These actions have been brought by prosecutors sympathetic to one faction (the Gülenists) against high-ranking figures affiliated with Prime Minister Erdoğan and his party (the AKP). For people like me, who know next to nothing about Turkey, Rodrik’s post provides a nice overview (albeit one with a strong editorial slant). In addition, one passage in Rodrik’s post caught my attention, as it seems related to a common pattern, and problem, in the world of anticorruption enforcement:

The Gülenists have dressed up their campaign against Erdoğan in the guise of a corruption probe. No one who is familiar with Turkey would be surprised to learn that there was large-scale corruption surrounding construction projects. But the corruption probe is clearly politically motivated, and Erdoğan is right to question the prosecutors’ motives. The current round of judicial activism is as much about rooting out corruption as previous rounds were about [other alleged malfeasance] – which is to say, not much at all.

This seems to be a frequently recurring pattern: (1) one party or faction launches an aggressive anticorruption probe against a rival party or faction; (2) it is almost certainly true that most or all of the targets of the corruption investigation did in fact engage in corruption—often serious corruption; yet (3) it is also often the case that those pushing the investigations are doing so not only, or even primarily, out of genuine concern about corruption, but rather as a way to damage a political rival. The most familiar manifestation of this pattern occurs when a new party or faction comes to power and launches corruption investigations against its predecessors or main rivals, as part of what may amount to a purge (or, more mildly, an effort to consolidate power). There’s a plausible argument that this is what’s happening right now in China. The Turkey situation is a bit different, in that a faction that does not currently control the government nonetheless has enough support within the justice system (police, prosecutors, judges, etc.) to launch politically-motivated corruption probes of government officials. Continue reading