Behold the judges in Ankara

Behold the judges in Ankara

These days, I am increasingly hearing that Turkey is becoming less democratic and more authoritarian. People bemoan the decline of the rule-of-law, the symbol of that being the new Presidential Palace. That, at least, is the view in all meetings I attend, and the western media’s coverage of Turkey pushes that view aggressively. I disagree, if I may. It may be a tempting picture, but it fails to represent the reality in Ankara. Let me explain. 

It all reminds me of the old Jurassic Park tale of late Michael Crichton. Remember the book and the text accompanying the film? There were only female dinosaurs in the theme park – keep reading, I promise this is highly relevant – then, the dinosaurs started breeding. Why? Some of the female dinosaurs started to act like males, because the missing parts of the dinosaurs’ DNA sequence was completed by amphibian DNA, namely that of frogs. They cited a 1980-something article that frogs have this ability to control their gender. So some female frogs tended to act like male frogs in all-female-frog environments.  

Now, maybe politics acts the same way as nature does and miraculously corrects imbalances. I don’t know. But just as Turkey’s executive was tipping the scales toward itself, the constitutional court became a more democratic institution. You might say it mutated democratic genes in an environment where that idea had all but eroded. 

Judicial activism has increased in Ankara with the 2010 referendum. The “yes” vote to change the Constitution was around 58 percent then, giving individual Turks the right to file complaints directly to the constitutional court. Individual complaint filings increased the judicial activism of the court. Why? Because it now had the right to accept or reject complaints, so effectively as to determine its scope of rule-making. It was the Constitutional Court that ultimately rejected the Twitter and Facebook bans. The rulings of the court became nothing less than lessons in the rule of law. The same goes for its decision on the Ergenekon case. The court has also decided that there is no need for all internal mechanisms to be exhausted for it to accept a case. Another critical decision was about the elections in the Supreme Body for Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) this year. In that, and all recent decisions, the Court has upheld democratic principles and strengthened the rule of law.

So I tend to disagree with people when they argue Turkey has finally (and inevitably) become a Middle Eastern country where the rule of law is no more. Quite the contrary. We now have the Constitutional Court in Ankara. The court has become more active and has used its powers to enlarge individual freedom. It has also become a beacon of the rule of law. I consider this a positive – if little-noticed – surprise of 2014. Democracy, like nature, finds a way.