Another clash between the Turkish government and judiciary
A Turkish proverb says, “The coming of Thursday is evident from Wednesday.”
It was evident from days ago that Haşim Kılıç, the president of Turkey’s Constitutional Court, was going to deliver a strong speech on the 52nd anniversary of the Court on April 25, criticizing Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government’s approach regarding the judiciary. It was equally evident that Erdoğan and the government would strongly react to that and add another topic of antagonism to the already strained Turkish political scene. As a side effect, the opposition parties would take sides with Kılıç, saying he is the voice of independent courts and democratic freedoms in Turkey.
No surprise! Everything happened exactly the way it was forecasted.
Now, on top of the clash between the Erdoğan government and the judiciary that started right after the Dec. 17 and 25, 2013 graft probes, Turkey has a new source of political antagonism. This can be understood from the press conference held by Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ who denounced Kılıç as working against the government, as if it was an opposition party. Erdoğan has called on Kılıç to take of his judge’s robes and get into politics if he wants to challenge the government. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) opposition have already taken a defensive position for Kılıç against the government’s attacks.
Well, what Kılıç actually did was criticize the government over the removal from their positions of judges and prosecutors involved in the graft probes – by changing a law to have secure political control over their appointments. He also asked the government to come up with evidence before accusing judges and prosecutors of being members of illegal organizations within the state apparatus.
To be frank, being accused by Kılıç – without being named – of being “shallow” for accusing the top court of being “un-national,” after its lifting of the Twitter block, might be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Erdoğan.
Actually, there is a history of tension between the Constitutional Court and the government.
When Erdoğan’s government submitted a constitutional amendment package to referendum in 2010, one of the most interesting items was the right to apply to the Court individually, after exhausting all national judicial ways, before going to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). It was approved along with other amendments.
One of the aims was to stop the flow of Turkish citizens to the ECHR, which was something that the government had concerns about because of the alleged coup cases like Ergenekon and Balyoz. The opposition parties, mainly the CHP and MHP, resisted the idea. They claimed that it would downgrade and bypass the Court of Appeals and Council of State.
Indeed, the government’s project to enforce the Constitutional Court as a buffer zone between the Turkish judiciary and the ECHR has backfired.
Kılıç defended the Court ruling on Twitter, which came after domestic legal means had not been exhausted, by saying that when it comes to freedoms, it was his Court’s call.
After listening the strong speech from Kılıç, Justice Minister Bozdağ said the Constitutional Court had “no right” to play the role of the Court of Appeals and Council of State. This was a belated regret.
Erdoğan is furious, but he has nothing to go with against Kılıç or the Constitutional Court, as he needs a constitutional amendment to deal with it. However, Kılıç has only 10 months left before his retirement and if Erdoğan manages to get himself elected as the next president in August, he will be able to appoint judges to the emptied seats of the Constitutional Court. So Erdoğan can afford to bide his time.