Erdoğan’s ‘New Turkey’ strives to curb judiciary

Erdoğan’s ‘New Turkey’ strives to curb judiciary

Attention in Turkey will now focus on the Sept. 12 elections for members of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which oversees appointments and dismissals and conducts investigations in the judiciary.

In view of all that has been transpiring in this country since Ergenekon, the Balyoz cases and the Dec. 17 and 25 of 2013 corruption probes, which implicated the government, it is not hard to see why these elections are crucial.

Ten of the 22 members of the HSYK will be elected by judges and prosecutors across the country. The rest will be appointed by the president, Court of Cassation (Yargıtay), Council of State (Danıştay) and the Justice Academy. The minister of justice and his deputy are automatic HSYK members.

There are three groups running in the elections. These are the pro-government “Unity in the Judiciary” list, the secularist and Kemalist “Yarsav” list and supporters of Fetullah Gülen, who have not come out with a unified list due to their ongoing war of attrition with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. Their candidates will run independently.

The outcome hangs in the balance, but the crucial thing here is what these elections will signify in terms of the rule of law and separation of powers in Turkey. Take for example the name of the pro-government “Unity in the Judiciary” list. Erdoğan and his ministers have made it clear they want executive control over the judiciary and need “unity in the judiciary” to achieve this.

They do not have this yet, even though they have tried hard. Fortunately the Constitutional Court remains independent – at least so far – and was there to stop them. Erdoğan and the government also boycotted the recent ceremony for the opening of the judicial year because of their continuing fight with the independent elements of the judiciary. Erdoğan and the AKP want a system of government that is based on the “unity of powers,” not the “separation of powers” principle, which is a cornerstone of true democracy. They cite the need for “judicial impartiality” in supporting this aberration from democracy.

They point to the fact that the judiciary in Turkey has been conquered from the inside by the Gülen group, or as they are referring to it, by “a parallel structure.” That “structure,” however, was not a problem for them when the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases against “Kemalists plotters,” who allegedly sought to topple the democratically elected AKP government, were being conducted.

It only became a problem after the Dec. 17 and 25 corruption probes, which implicated government ministers, and as well as Erdoğan and his son Bilal. The story is too well known to repeat here. It is worth mentioning the latest episode though.

Prosecutors recently chose not to pursue the Dec. 25 corruption probe implicating Bilal Erdoğan arguing there is no case to be pursued. These prosecutors are now being accused of having been co-opted by the government to cover up the corruption allegations that are damning for Erdoğan and the AKP.

The government, for its part, is claiming this decision is an example of how an independent judiciary should act. It nevertheless seems the decision by these prosecutors will not completely solve Erdoğan’s problems, as they clearly did not have the courage to order the evidence collected by prosecutors for the Dec. 25 probe to be destroyed.

That evidence, which will remain filed away, includes alleged voice recordings of Erdoğan telling Bilal to get rid of the money that he was holding illegally. In other words, a judicial “Damocles’ Sword” remains over Erdoğan’s head.

It will remain there until the separation of powers is completely done away with, and independent elements of the judiciary are brought fully under executive control. This is one of the key “pillars” of the “New Turkey” that Erdoğan and the AKP are striving for.