Can Erdoğan maintain stability in Turkey?
“I was quite happy during the discussion because Prime Minister Erdoğan, in a very frank and open manner, addressed all the issues and gave us reassurance of his intention to fully respect the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and, generally speaking, the separation of powers.” This is what Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Commission, said after he met Erdoğan in Brussels on Jan. 21, together with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.
The new law on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which was signed by President Abdullah Gül last week - despite the fact that he later said in a written statement that no less than 15 of its articles violate the Constitution - belies Barosso’s remark, of course.
The law not only makes a mockery of the rule of law, but also the independence of the judiciary and, generally speaking, the separation of powers. Erdoğan is so embroiled in his war with the Gülen group, however, that he does not seem to be too concerned over this.
However, he is aware, especially after Gül’s statement concerning its unconstitutional articles, that he is in a race against time before the new HSYK law goes to the Constitutional Court. The oddity of the situation is that the government can use this law to the hilt until the court’s ruling, even if it is eventually deemed to be unconstitutional.
There is also another factor working in Erdoğan’s favor, namely if the court annuls the law, or any of its articles, its decision will not be retroactive. This, of course, explains the speedy dismissals and new appointments in the judiciary immediately after the HSYK law came into force. It also explains the speedy release of the prime suspects in the Dec. 17 scandal, including the sons of two former ministers and a shady Iranian businessman close to Erdoğan and his inner circle. Of course, whether the EU side feels it was cheated, and if so, how it will react, if at all, remains to be seen.
This situation also goes to show how little leverage the EU now has over Turkey. In other words, Erdoğan simply does not care what the EU says and certainly does not feel bound by any promises he may have made in Brussels.
The real question, however, is not about what the EU will say or do, but how far the Erdoğan government feels it will get away with all this, as it continues to unabashedly violate not just the Constitution, but also the basic principles that make a genuine democracy what it is.
This is a country that has even imprisoned a former Chief of the General Staff on what many believe to be trumped up terrorism charges put forward by prosecutors sympathetic to Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
It is also a country, however, where the same prosecutors have turned against Erdoğan and the AKP due to a bitter internecine fight among Islamists that many secularists find difficult to fathom.
So there is no guarantee for Erdoğan that the table will not turn against him and his government eventually, given that anything is possible in Turkey. In other words, even if the AKP should come out on top in the upcoming local elections thanks to the votes of Islamists and ultra-conservatives - whose commitment to genuine democracy is questionable anyway - time will ultimately run against it.
What is certain, in the meantime, is that Erdoğan will not be able to govern in comfort because he will constantly face political and social instability, given that he clearly intends to rock the boat further after the elections in an attempt to run his enemies to the ground.
Developments also show that his enemies are also resourceful in terms of using less-than-legal below the belt methods, and this will also ensure that Erdogan’s rule will mean instability for Turkey. One way or another, Erdoğan’s future prospects do not appear as secure as some AKP supporters appear to believe.