Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc and the mayor of Ankara were placed under judicial investigation yesterday, officials said, over a public row including accusations of corruption that exposed fractures in the ruling AK Party.
The row burst into the open late on Monday when Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek upbraided Arinc over unusually direct criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a man not known for his tolerance of dissent.
In a series of tweets on Monday, Gokcek, an Erdogan loyalist who has run the capital for decades, accused Arinc of serving the “parallel state”, a reference to the Gulen movement, which the president claims plotted to overthrow him.
Arinc, who co-founded the AKP with Erdogan, hit back by bluntly calling the mayor “dishounourable” and “corrupt” and threatening to reveal his wrongdoings after the elections.
The stand-off highlights tensions in the AKP in the run-up to a June general election between those staunchly loyal to Erdogan and a more conservative faction, including Arinc, frustrated by his meddling in government affairs.
Erdogan founded the AK Party along with Arinc, serving as its leader and Turkey’s prime minister for more than a decade.
But under the terms of the constitution, he is supposed to be above party politics since assuming the presidency in August.
The Ankara prosecutor launched an inquiry into alleged misconduct after an independent lawyer demanded investigation of Arinc’s claim that Gokcek had “sold Ankara bit by bit” during his 20 years in office, a court official told Reuters.
The petition also accused Arinc of turning a blind eye to Gokcek’s alleged misdeeds despite being a senior minister.
A second official with knowledge of the matter said that the prosecutor had been obliged to open an investigation after receiving the lawyer’s complaint, but that ultimately neither Arinc nor Gokcek would want to press the matter.
The prosecutor could not be reached for comment and Arinc and Gokcek were also not available.
Prosecutors will first have to seek permission from the interior ministry to investigate Gokcek and apply to parliament to talk to Arinc, who has immunity.
Tensions between the government and Erdogan first emerged at the weekend over the handling of the peace process to end the decades-long armed struggle by Kurdish rebels.
Arinc told Erdogan to stop intervening in government business while the president said it was “my right and duty to voice my opinion” on the matter.
Erdogan, has already stretched the powers of the presidency since being elected last August after 11 years as prime minister, chairing two cabinet meetings and lecturing the central bank on its monetary policy.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu expressed discontent over the spat yesterday, saying that the AK Party would take disciplinary action if further public disagreements tarnished its reputation ahead of the June 7 parliamentary election.
“Both statements made yesterday are wrong, in terms of the rules, institutions and discipline of our party and also our political culture,” he said, adding that he had spoken with Arinc and would meet Gokcek later.
The vote is important as Erdogan wants the AK Party to win at least the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution and create a full presidential system in Turkey.