Opposition leaders to jail and firms taken over by trustees?
The Turkish Justice Ministry sent 11 files to the Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s office on June 15 to open the way for the trial of two opposition leaders, a week after President Tayyip Erdoğan approved the constitutional change by the parliament.
The files are against the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) chairman, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş, whose party focuses on the Kurdish issue. The files are part of a total of 787 files opened against 148 MPs out of the 550-member Turkish parliament.
The idea to lift the immunities of MPs and put them before the courts was first raised by Erdoğan in order to move against MPs “helping terrorism,” implying that some HDP deputies were helping militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in their acts of terror.
On June 15, the Istanbul police went to the house of Figen Yüksekdağ, the co-chairwoman of the HDP, in connection with a search for Fadime Şahin, the spokeswoman for the Socialist Women Platforms, and Yüksekdağ’s “housemate,” according to her own account. Yüksekdağ denounced it as “banditry,” but Istanbul police said the search was carried out within a terror investigation.
But the accusations in that first bundle of 11 files against Kılıçdaroğlu and Demirtaş are not related to terrorist offenses. The two opposition party leaders are going to be tried for “insulting the president” (Turkish Penal Code 299) and “humiliating the state, the government and judiciary,” (TPC 301).
Insulting the president has become one of the types of cases opened most following Erdoğan’s election in August 2014. Last March, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said 1,845 court cases had been opened, mostly against journalists and politicians. Along with domestic criticism, there have been international ones regarding “insults” because of the suitability of using it for almost every instance of political criticism or satire; the Council of Europe is one of them.
When the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) initiated the process to lift the immunities of MPs after Erdoğan’s statements, Kılıçdaroğlu challenged the government and said he was also going to support it since he was “not afraid of being put in jail” because of his political stance.
It is not clear whether it will help Erdoğan or the AK Parti if the courts sentence opposition party leaders such as Kılıçdaroğlu and Demirtaş because of those “crimes” and perhaps sentence them to jail time. But this step might pose another threat to the quality of Turkish democracy, amid comments from the president’s chief economy adviser, Yiğit Bulut, that only Erdoğan should be eligible to make political remarks in the country.
The outlook on the economy front is also giving alarming signs. The government has released a plan to lure more foreign investments to Turkey including tax exemptions. But on the other hand, the AK Parti is preparing another draft to broaden the government’s authority to appoint boards of trustees to companies. That move has been criticized by opposition parties and academics who claim it could be used as a “political weapon.” Appointing trustees is a precaution to protect companies from bankruptcy, according to the trade code. But Özgür Özel, a CHP spokesman, highlights that the boards of “economically sound” companies (including media and finance) have been seized by the government because of links with the U.S.-based Islamic ideologue Fethullah Gülen, who was once a close ally of Erdoğan but is now considered a “terrorist” trying to overthrow Erdoğan and the AK Parti government.
With the new regulation, the partnership shares or administrative authorities of the assets and bonds of a company to which a trustee panel has been appointed will be transferred to the trustee. Özel characterized the move as “very scary and dangerous” for the business world, capital markets and domestic and foreign investors. In theory, the board of every company could be seized by the government if a criminal reason could be alleged without necessarily even being proven.
It is also not clear whether it will help the Turkish economy if foreign investors start thinking that their assets might be seized one day and run by government-appointed trustees upon a court decision, perhaps influenced by the political atmosphere, amid questions of free media and independent courts in Turkey.
The idea of opposition party leaders or members being sentenced to prison for political reasons or companies being taken over by government-appointed trustees – all of which would be decided by courts acting under the weighty influence of more executive branch influence due to another draft regarding the Council of State and Supreme Court of Appeals – are not good signs for democracy in Turkish politics and the economy.