Erdoğan’s new found respect for the Constitutional Court
The release of 230 officers who had been accused in the “Sledgehammer” (Balyoz) case of conspiring to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has left Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a quandary. He is praising the Constitutional Court for ruling that the defendant’s rights were violated, but this is the same court that he declared war on a few months ago.
Erdoğan is now reminding everyone that it was his government that introduced the right of individual petition to the Constitutional Court in order to obviate the need for Turks to apply to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). It was this right that resulted in the collapse of the Balyoz case.
After the release of the officers Erdoğan even said, somewhat cynically, that if they were not given the right to petition the Constitutional Court individually, and had applied to the ECHR instead, they would still be in prison, because Ankara would then merely have paid the fine meted out to Turkey by ECHR while still keeping the officers in prison.
“We don’t expect any thanks from them. Let them know who is struggling for democracy in this country, that is enough,” he said after the officers were released. Such remarks are unlikely to reduce the anger felt by those who were incarcerated, given the enthusiastic support that the government gave to the prosecutors who initially brought the charges against them.
Many also recall that Erdoğan only became a defender of the accused officers after he broke up with Fethullah Gülen, whose supporters in the judiciary he now accuses of having plotted against members of the military. It is these same supporters Erdoğan is accusing of having conspired to topple his government by using allegedly fabricated corruption charges.
Put another way the released officers are the beneficiaries of the Erdoğan-Gülen fight rather than any genuine effort – other than some lip service - on the part of Erdoğan and his government to see justice done. The same Erdogan was also railing against the Constitutional Court no so long ago for annulling the government’s Twitter ban, as well as its law on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). He had openly accused members of the Court of “engaging in politics against the government” and called on them to “take off their judicial robes and enter politics if they want to do that.”
However, contrary to what Erdoğan is claiming today, both the Twitter ban and the HSYK law, which were not only undemocratic but also blatantly unconstitutional, showed the government’s undemocratic inclinations. The Twitter ban violated the right to free speech while the HSYK law violated the separation of powers principle by effectively putting the judiciary under the control of the Justice Ministry.
Meanwhile, statements at the time by Erdoğan and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ suggested that the AKP planned to change the Constitution if and when it could secure the necessary numbers, in order to put a check on the Constitutional Court.
Erdoğan hopes to be elected president in August, even though he has not officially announced his candidacy yet, and the last thing he wants as president is to be encumbered by a Constitutional Court that curbs his powers.
Put another way, Erdoğan is praising the same Court that he was castigating just a few months ago. There is still some potential good to come out of this though. It makes it harder for the AKP to tamper with the Constitution in order to bring the Constitutional Court, the only court that has credibility left in Turkey, in check.
Yet nothing is certain if Erdoğan becomes president. Consistency has never been his forte and he may still decide in the future that he also wants absolute control over the Constitutional Court.