Turkey urgently needs a political ethics law
A need for law on political ethics has always been on the agenda of Turkish politics in the last two decades in regards to efforts to harmonize Turkish laws with the European Union acquis. But, for obvious reasons, it has never been materialized.
A very recent attempt was made by former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in April 2016 as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) under his rule had introduced a draft law on political ethics.
Davutoğlu, at the time, had devoted his government to fulfill all the 72 criteria set by the European Union for the accomplishment of visa liberalization for Turkish nationals by the end of June 2016 as agreed as part of the March 2016 migrant deal. A political ethics law was among these criteria.
The draft law was aiming for a more accountable politics with a set of political behaviors in line with universal standards. It introduced codes of conduct, rules on gifts and hospitality, post-employment restrictions, requirements to record contact with lobbyists and conflicts of interest policies. It also stipulated the establishment of a political ethics committee in parliament.
However, the draft law could never be legislated. Speculations at the time suggested the opposition of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan against the drafted law for various reasons. In a broader context, Erdoğan’s disappointment with regards to Davutoğlu’s premiership had already been too deep and this draft law was just another source of tension between the two men. This row ended with Davutoğlu’s resignation in late May 2016.
Shelving the draft did not, of course, make the ethics-related problems with regard to corruption, nepotism and others disappear. On the contrary, Turkey’s record in the fight against corruption, as well as its level of transparency, has been in constant decline in recent years.
Turkey’s rank on the Corruption Perception Index is 78 out of 180 countries. Plus, the reports issued by the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) on Turkey in late June 2019 highlighted a continuing lack of progress on improving the transparency of party funding and preventing corruption among MPs, judges and prosecutors.
However, current discussions on political ethics do not refer to such international reports. They have been brought to the agenda after ruling AKP officials, as well as some media, suggested some examples of nepotism by newly-elected main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayors.
In retaliation, CHP spokesmen have given names of first- and second-degree relatives of AKP mayors, ministers and other officials who have recently been appointed to key positions in a breach of the principle of meritocracy.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has joined the discussion and suggested the legislation of a draft law on political ethics that would bar elected mayors to appoint family members under their jurisdiction. The draft was submitted to parliament, which is set to be opened on Oct. 1.
Another dimension with regard to this discussion is the fact that Turkey has to legislate a law on political ethics – one out of six remaining criteria – as part of visa liberalization negotiations with the EU. As can be recalled, Turkey’s Reform Action Group held its latest meeting in May under the leadership of Erdoğan, who had instructed his ministers to accelerate works to fulfil the remaining criteria. The expectation is that the process would be accelerated following the opening of parliament in October.
Apart from meeting international requirements, a political ethics law and the establishment of a political ethics committee under parliament’s roof would also contribute to the Turkish political system. A more transparent, accountable and corruption-free politics is one of the irreplaceable requirements for a trustworthy political system and to deliver the demands of society.