Unusual suspects in the CHP

It is difficult to understand why on earth the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) nominated Ergenekon suspects as deputy candidates to the Turkish Parliament while these suspects are currently on trial for secret plots to foment chaos in the country in order to force the government from the power through military coup.

It may have suited the nationalist party to nominate shady figures for the election campaign, because of violence-ridden history of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), but for a party like the CHP, which claims to be social democrat and campaign on socialist/leftist values, to put suspects on the nominee list goes against everything the Socialist International (SI) member CHP stands for. Many CHP veterans and loyalists are having a hard time comprehending what drove party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to accept these suspects’ applications to become a deputy from party ranks.

Take, for example, Mehmet Haberal, a key suspect in the Ergenekon case. He has never associated himself with leftist values and in fact had unsuccessfully run for Parliament in the past from the center-right True Path Party (DYP). He has always been touted as a potential leader for the conservative right until he was arrested for his involvement in the Ergenekon plot. He is known to have provided his Patalya Hotels for important meetings of Ergenekon members. His charges do not end with aiding and abetting the terrorist Ergenekon organization; he is also accused of being a key leader in the group.

His quick rise to become a millionaire who established a hospital and university raised suspicions. It was later revealed that Haberal allegedly siphoned $96 million from the Council of Europe Social Development Fund and appropriated the money to 12 companies that he set up through the Haberal Education Foundation. After the court asked Turkey’s Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) to investigate financial transactions Haberal was involved in, the BDDK reported that millions of dollars were transferred from the university account to Haberal companies and disclosed the details of all the transactions.

Haberal was also accused of running another scheme in 2002 to oust then-Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, who became ill and was hospitalized at the Başkent University Hospital, owned by Haberal. During his treatment, Ecevit’s medical situation worsened, allegedly as a result of improper treatment intended to make him unfit to serve as prime minister. His wife Rahşan Ecevit quickly removed him from the hospital and took him home. After he was saved from the so-called treatment at Haberal’s hospital, Ecevit’s health quickly improved and he continued to serve as a prime minister and a politician for many years. During the course of the Ergenekon trial, the court asked the Council of Forensic Medicine (ATK) to examine hospital records. The ATK reported back to the court that there were serious questions regarding Ecevit’s controversial treatment and noted that the treatment given to Ecevit was inadequate.

Another Ergenekon suspect in the CHP nominee list is former Ankara Chamber of Commerce (ATO) President Sinan Aygün who for years had campaigned from the center right. When the police raided the Aygün’s office in 2008, they discovered that he had stashed 3 million euros in a safe. He did not offer any explanation as to where the money came from. It was reported at the time that Aygün turned the chamber of commerce into a propaganda machine aimed at creating sensational stories to heighten sensitivities of people nationwide. For example, during his term, the ATO used to regularly publish paranoid reports about missionary activities in Turkey. These “reports” were taken very seriously by the National Security Council (MGK), which is controlled by generals, and those reports led the MGK to declare that missionary activities were a real threat to national security in Turkey.

There was another skeleton found in Aygün’s closet. In 2002, as the chairman of ATO, he filed a petition in Ankara, claiming that then-Prime Minister Ecevit’s health was so bad he couldn’t even take care of his personal needs, go to his office, take part in meetings, manage the economy or represent Turkey abroad. He was arguing that it was necessary to determine whether Ecevit will be able to fulfill his responsibilities or not. He concluded that, in accordance with the Civil Code, Ecevit should be placed under guardianship.

The third Ergenekon suspect on the CHP nominee list is former prosecutor İlhan Cihaner who got on the board in a last-minute change to the parliamentary candidate list from Denizli province. He was charged with an attempt to put into operation a suspected coup plan, titled the Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism, in Erzincan. The plan was drafted by Col. Dursun Çiçek, who is currently in jail on coup charges, and included a subversive plan to plant ammunition and bombs in the houses where followers of some religious communities lived. According to the alleged plan, Cihaner would get a search warrant and have police carry it out in order to charge these people as an “armed terrorist organization.”

The weapon-planting conspiracy was exposed after the Erzurum specially authorized prosecutor conducted an investigation into Cihaner’s secret prosecution. Later, Justice Ministry inspectors also uncovered irregularities in the probe. An investigation was launched into Cihaner on the grounds that he failed to inform the justice minister about his probe into the religious community. Cihaner carried out the investigation illegally, in violation of established legal practices, and overstepped his authority. If Cihaner is found guilty, he may face a prison term of up to 26 years.

The fourth suspect from the CHP is journalist Mustafa Balbay. If you read his diaries, uncovered by the police and submitted to court, you would conclude that he was not an investigative reporter, as he claimed to be, but rather acted as an accomplice in provoking top military officials to plot a coup. I think catapulting Ergenekon suspects into top positions in the nominee lists, against the will of most CHP voters, would greatly harm the CHP. The explanation of “presumption of innocence” would not fly with voters during the election period. Whether these suspects will be convicted or not does not matter at this point as they are already “damaged goods.” Recent public surveys have revealed that the nominations are not viewed positively in CHP circles as well.

One survey conducted by the AKAM polling company, which has close ties with the CHP, revealed that the majority of CHP voters are against the nomination of Ergenekon suspects from the party. A total of 76.8 percent of respondents, who are CHP supporters, said they would not vote for the party if it nominates Ergenekon suspects, while only 23.2 percent said they would continue to support the party under any circumstances. Another survey, carried out by the independent MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center, found that the CHP lost votes when they adopted a pro-military and pro-Ergenekon stance. It looks like CHP will pay the price on election day for trying to provide an “immunity cover” to Ergenekon suspects.

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