Erdoğan’s system signals implosion

Erdoğan’s system signals implosion

On Jan. 10, when Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government submitted a draft to Parliament to take more control over the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the acting chairman of the board, Ahmet Hamsici, issued a very strong, 66 page-long statement against the move. In the statement, Hamsici said the draft aimed to politicize the board and turn it into a department of the executive branch.

There were a few interesting points about this almost rebellious act.

Firstly, the chairman of the board is Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ. 

Secondly, Bozdağ had banned the HSYK from issuing statements, after the one made on Dec. 24 in which the board criticized a government decree for being “unconstitutional.” The Dec. 21 decree had stated that prosecutors should inform the administration before starting a probe. It came in reaction to the arrest of the son of the (now former) interior minister in a major graft operation on Dec. 17, after which Erdoğan had to sack four of his Cabinet ministers whose names were involved in the probe. On Dec. 25, the Council of State nixed the government’s decree, on the same grounds as the HSYK’s criticism, which further upset Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan. He had already started a purge in the police force, but he was not able to remove judges and prosecutors as easily because of the still-existing protection of the judiciary in the Constitution. The promotions, demotions, and all disciplinary actions regarding judges and prosecutors are regulated by the HSYK, and the fact that justice minister is the HSYK chair was already a matter of criticism for international bodies like the European Union (which Turkey wants to be a member of) as a violation of judicial independence. So, Erdoğan wants to change the HSYK law in order to have direct control over judges and prosecutors. This latest draft gives many powers, including the opening up inspections against them, to the minister.

Thirdly, Hamsici bypassed the ban on HSYK statements by issuing the statement in his name, taking the risk as its carrier. The statement, by the way, was reported to have the support of 16 of the total 22 members of the board.

Fourthly, Hamsici is known to be a conservative judge, close to the AK Parti government. He had served as a deputy undersecretary and member of the Council of State in AK Parti governments before being elected as the deputy chair of the HSYK.

Fifthly, the HSYK law, which Erdoğan now wants to change, is a law that he himself introduced in Dec. 18, 2010, following the Sept. 12 referendum in the same year. It was a system that he desired, but it seems that he designed it for the political needs of the day, which are no longer valid.

This is only a cross-section of the crisis between the Erdoğan administration and the judiciary, as Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu puts it. Davutoğlu reportedly said to a group of AK Parti deputies in Parliament that there might be more resignations from the party, but they should stay strong. 

The possible impact of the crisis on foreign policy is another problem. The EU has issued its third “concern” statement in the last three weeks, and the U.S. has also expressed concern over the quality of justice and transparency in Turkey.

Erdoğan wants to concentrate as many powers as possible, as the country goes to two, possibly three elections this year. But it seems that the load is too heavy to carry. The signs of a possible implosion have started to be taken, and that’s why all eyes have turned to a possible intervention by President Abdullah Gül.