While politicians caught with their trousers down are noted for inventiveness in deflecting blame, Deniz Baykal has elevated the practice to an art form. The 72-year-old Turkish opposition leader resigned last month after a video showing him in bed with his former secretary, now a member of parliament, was posted on the Internet.
To Baykal, the culprit was obvious. “This is not a sex tape, this is a conspiracy,” the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) told reporters. Baykal pointed his podgy finger at the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), saying its leaders must have had prior knowledge of the tape.
In the murky world of politics in Ankara, anything is possible. But it makes little sense for the AKP to bring down a man who has not won an election for almost two decades. Some even argue that Baykal’s divisive and dictatorial stewardship of the CHP is more an asset to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan than a threat to his political future.
Indeed, Baykal’s explanation of his affair with Ankara deputy Nesrin Baytok well illustrates how his eccentric logic continues to befuddle voters. “If this has a price, and that price is the resignation from the CHP leadership, I am ready to pay it,” he said. “My resignation does not mean running away or giving in,” added Baykal. “On the contrary, it means that I’m fighting it.”
Erdogan called his own press conference and denounced Baykal’s comments “as cheap and ugly as the video itself,” although he didn’t say whether he had actually seen it.
The nine-minute soundless tape, filmed with a camera that was hidden in a wardrobe in the bedroom of a private house, was first posted on Habervaktim, a radical Islamist website. It was then reposted on the comparatively benign YouTube, which, ironically, is banned in Turkey.
“Once my friends informed me about the incident,” said Erdogan, “I ordered the transportation minister to block Internet circulation of the video. We could not have remained silent in the face of such footage, which may damage society’s moral values.”
The prime minister has asked the head of military intelligence to investigate the video. Baykal is a stout defender of the army and is campaigning to disrupt the AKP’s proposed constitutional reforms. These include forbidding judges to close political parties without the say-so of a parliamentary commission, allowing military officers to be tried in civilian courts and lifting the amnesty that the 1980 military coup leaders granted themselves before leaving power.
The AKP narrowly escaped one closure attempt and fiercely secular judges are more likely to see off the Islamic-leaning party in court than Baykal is at an election.
There is another theory behind the bedroom movie, as well as a suggestion for how the affair started. Baykal has survived several attempts to oust him by stacking the delegates, who vote for leaders, with his own supporters. Some longtime CHP activists would like to see a democratic, secular and successful party, free of army influence. Since ‘fair’ means have failed to dislodge Baykal, the alternative was to indulge in the ‘foul’ variety. In this vein, it has been suggested that the tape could be one of a set, with release of the rest hinging on Baykal’s agreement not to stage a comeback.
Meanwhile, the junior partner in the Baykal-Baytok bedroom coalition has been talking to the press about the virtue of family values. She told the Aksam daily that her husband, Can Baytok, and the couple’s daughter have been very supportive. “This is a great test and I know that I have passed that test in the eyes of my family,” she said. Then, there was the little matter of her husband’s ailing and failing computer business.
Baytok said she had never used her political influence to get favors for her husband. “The allegations that he won contracts from CHP municipalities are lies,” she claimed. “In the past 20 years, he has applied for only one municipal tender… and Can sold a small number of computers at very low prices,” said Baytok.
At least she is displaying consistency, a rare trait in Turkish politics. The two men known to be in her life have both been failing at their jobs for the past 20 years.
PETER GRIMSDITCH is Executive’s Istanbul correspondent