Judges liked by the AKP in top positions, at last
In its 13th year in power, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government is finally seeing the judges it likes in the top judicial positions.
In the Feb. 10 elections held among their members, both the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeals elected judges who are unofficially favored by the ruling party.
In the Constitutional Court elections, Zühtü Arslan received 11 of 17 votes from the board of judges. That clearly could be a relief for the government, considering that many critical cases in the past, including the closure case of the AK Parti in 2008, were turned down by only one vote. That could sooth the government’s worries, both for pending cases brought up by the opposition parties regarding certain legal amendments and for possible cases in the future. For example, a controversial security bill is currently waiting in parliament that the opposition parties have already vowed to take to the Constitutional Court for cancelation if it passes with the AK Parti’s majority votes.
Local newspapers have reported that certain AK Parti officials “shuttled” between “the palace” (meaning President Tayyip Erdoğan) and the Constitutional Court to lobby on behalf of Arslan ahead of the vote.
Arslan has previously slammed the court for accepting to judge the closure case submitted by the Republic Prosecutor in the first place, accusing it of being “pro-coup” against the AK Parti. Having previously served as the head of the Turkish Police Academy, Arslan is 51 years old, which means that he is eligible to remain on the board for 14 more years.
For the top position at the Supreme Court of Appeals, Rüştü Cerit was elected in a landslide with 280 votes. This is an indication of the changing direction of the winds in the Turkish judiciary.
The Turkish public is familiar with Cerit as the judge who in 2003 acquitted Erdoğan of fraud claims in the Akbil Case, which referred to Erdoğan’s time as the mayor of Istanbul in the mid-1990s, along with a group of municipality officials.
Following his election, Cerit said in his acceptance speech that he would protect the separation of powers principle of the constitution and try to elevate the credibility of the Turkish judiciary, which he said had “declined” in recent times.
That was a reference to the fight within the judiciary between the government supporters and alleged sympathizers of Fethullah Gülen, the moderate Islamist ideologue living in the U.S., who was once a close ally of Erdoğan and is now an arch-enemy after the graft probes opened on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013. Adding Gülenists to Turkey’s national security threat list, Erdoğan has repeatedly said he is determined to root Gülenists out of the state structure, (which is why he calls them the “parallel structure within the state”).
As for Haşim Kılıç, the outgoing president of the Constitutional Court said as he was leaving his post on Feb. 10 that the election system in the judiciary was “corrupting” it, and it was not possible to continue like this any longer. “The judiciary is not a tool for revenge,” Kılıç said.
The elections in the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Appeals mark a new phase in the AK Parti’s rule of more than 12 years, and the top judiciary can no longer be presumed as an adversary for the government.