Erdoğan has his first problem with the judiciary even before day one
President-elect Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan is handing over the chairmanship of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu today (Aug. 27), at an extraordinary congress taking place in Ankara. The next step will be to take over the presidency from Abdullah Gül on Aug. 28, after an oath-taking ceremony in Parliament, to start his five-year term.
However, even before his first day, Erdoğan has experienced his first problem with the judiciary, in a first indication that his plans to establish a strong presidential system without changing the Constitution may not be so easy.
The problem arose when President-elect Erdoğan said he would not be attending the opening ceremony of the judicial year - something of a political tradition - if the hosting Court of Appeals (“Yargıtay”) chose to give the stand to the chairman of the Turkish Bar Association (TBB). Earlier this year, on an occasion to mark the anniversary of the Council of State, Erdoğan reacted negatively when TBB Chairman Metin Feyzioğlu extended his speech to almost an hour, also strongly criticizing the government. Erdoğan walked out of the ceremony and asked President Gül to do so too, which Gül did.
He was so upset that he vowed to never again attend any program at which Feyzioğlu was giving an address.
When Erdoğan said that if Feyzioğlu speaks, he will not attend the opening of the judicial year on Sept. 1, it put the Yargıtay in a difficult position. On the one hand there were the traditions to consider, such as the bar association representing an inseparable part of the judiciary that has always been given the stand along with others. On the other hand, Erdoğan was determined. The supreme judges convened to consider all this on Aug. 25, ultimately deciding that Feyzioğlu’s right to speak at the event comes within the bounds of freedom of expression. The TBB chairman will therefore be able to take the stand, but he will be limited to 30 minutes.
Responding to the decision as a “so be it” kind of stance taken by the judiciary, Erdoğan turned down a personal invitation sent by Ali Alkan, the head of the Yargıtay, and declared that he will not be present at the ceremony. Erdoğan is now expected to travel to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) on the same day, Sept. 1, as his first official trip abroad as the 12th President of Turkey.
It is not clear whether he will attend the ceremonies of other judicial bodies as president, such as those of the Constitutional Court. During the anniversary ceremony of the Constitutional Court a few months ago, Erdoğan was also upset at the remarks of the Court’s chairman, Haşim Kılıç, regarding freedom of expression and assembly. The new president does not like the idea of being subject to criticism from the judiciary in meetings that he is invited to as the head of the executive body.
Erdoğan has said on a number of occasions that he finds judicial controls over the government to be “excessive and creating obstacles” for the executive authority given by the people. That is why he wants a strong presidential system, and he has said that passing a constitutional change to achieve this will be among the priorities of his term. Taking the first challenge as an indication, it doesn’t seem that this will be a very easy task.