Secret wiretaps expose how Erdoğan had poll numbers manipulated before publication in a Turkish daily

Fatih Altaylı (L) shakes hands with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Abdullah Bozkurt

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan manipulated the findings of an opinion poll before they were published in the Habertürk newspaper, confidential documents have revealed.

According to secret wiretaps obtained by Nordic Monitor, Erdoğan point man Mehmet Fatih Saraç, who was hired as deputy chairman of the Ciner Media Group, which owns Habertürk, had a conversation with the daily’s editor-in-chief on how to doctor poll numbers to benefit the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Saraç was installed as an Islamist caretaker in the media group at the request of the Turkish president to control its editorial policies.

The phone conversation, initiated by Habertürk Editor-in-Chief Fatih Altaylı on March 13, 2013 at 14:40 hours, reveals how Altaylı revealed the results of the poll to Saraç before they went to print. Altaylı said the numbers could put Erdoğan’s AKP in a difficult spot and suggested that he could fix the numbers after talking to the pollster, the Konsensus Research and Consultancy Company. “I will take some points from the Nationalist Movement Party [MHP] and undecided voters. I’ll manipulate [the poll],” Altaylı said. Konsensus is owned by a businesman named Murat Sarı.

 

Mehmet Fatih Sarac

 

He also added that support for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the predecessor of today’s Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), had decreased in the polling data, which he claimed might discourage the BDP’s participation in settlement talks the government had initiated to resolve the decades-long “Kurdish problem” in Turkey. “What I’m saying is that I can present the numbers for the BDP as 2 percentage points higher after talking to the polling company. What do you say?” Altaylı asks. Saraç suggests he take some points from the MHP and give them to the BDP.

 

Transcript of the phone conversation between Habertürk Editor-in-Chief Fatih Altaylı and Erdoğan point man Fatih Saraç on March 13, 2013: 

Haberturkpoll1

 

About 45 minutes after this conversation, Saraç called Erdoğan’s son Necmettin Bilal Erdoğan to let him know what was going on with the polling data. He asked Bilal whether it would be all right to present the BDP figures as higher than actual to protect his father’s AKP. He said he would take some 2.5 percentage points from the MHP and move them to the BDP and asked him to convey the changes to his father.

 

President Erdoğan and his son Bilal

The opinion poll, which made its way to the Turkish media in mid-March of 2013, was conducted with the intention of determining whether peace talks initiated by the government with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to resolve the country’s long-standing Kurdish problem had had any impact on the popularity of the parties in parliament. According to the poll, then-Prime Minister and now President Erdoğan’s AKP had a 36.8 percent approval rating without the splitting of undecided votes. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) received 17.5 percent support, while the MHP received 11.1 percent and the BDP 3.6 percent. According to the poll, 12.3 percent of respondents said they were undecided.

 

Transcript of the wiretapped conversation between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Ciner Media Group Deputy Chairman Fatih Saraç on March 12, 2013: 

Haberturkpoll2

 

A day before these two phone conversations took place, on March 12, 2013, Erdoğan called Saraç directly at 22:17 hours and asked for the status of what he wanted from the media group. “Look, we talked about this with your boss [Turgay Ciner],” Erdoğan recalled, asking for confirmation that his wishes would be fulfilled as previously agreed. “It was understood, sir. Consider it an order”, Saraç replied. Erdoğan questioned the front page of the newspaper at one point of the conversation, and Saraç said he had been in communication with Erdoğan’s son Bilal on how to proceed.

In another phone conversation on March 6, 2013 Habertürk Editor-in-Chief Altaylı called Saraç about a column he had written on energy privatization deals. Saraç said he was on his way to see Erdoğan and that it would be wrong to publish such a piece because Erdoğan was going to go to Ciner’s facilities in the town of Silopi on Sunday. Altaylı said he would sit on the article and delay its publication. Ciner has business interests in many fields, from energy to mining, and has greatly benefited from government contracts and tenders. He directed his media outlets to act for the benefit of the Erdoğan government in exchange for favors.

 

Transcript of the wiretapped conversation between Habertürk Editor-in-Chief Fatih Altaylı  and Ciner Media Group Deputy Chairman Fatih Saraç on March 6, 2013: 

Haberturkpoll3

 

The wiretaps were authorized by Istanbul high criminal courts on various dates at the request of Turkish prosecutors who were looking into an organized crime network that involved Erdoğan’s son Bilal and other business and political associates as part of investigation file No. 2012/656.

Bilal was among the suspects in an organized crime investigation pursued by prosecutors in Istanbul for whom detention warrants were issued on December 25, 2013 by the prosecutors. However, Erdoğan stepped in, illegally preventing the execution of the warrants by ordering the police to ignore the prosecutor’s orders. After the removal of the prosecutors and police chiefs who were involved in the investigation, Erdoğan managed to whitewash the crimes of his associates.

 

Transcript of the wiretapped conversation between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal and Ciner Media Group Deputy Chairman Fatih Saraç on March 13, 2013: 

Haberturkpoll4

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