Turkish government move on judiciary stirs fight in Parliament

Turkish government move on judiciary stirs fight in Parliament

Turkish government move on judiciary stirs fight in Parliament

AKP deputies literally give blood, sweat and tears on debates over judicial changes. DHA photo

Latent tension in the legislature gave way to outright violence on Jan. 11 as Parliament began hearing a bill that will tighten Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s grip on the judiciary, particularly through a restructuring of the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).

Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies had already been putting in metaphorical blood, sweat and tears to realize their government’s desired amendments, when they gave some literal blood, sweat and tears on the second day of the ongoing debates as the head of a professional association of judges became the recipient of an attempted acrobatic flying kick from ruling AKP lawmaker Zeyid Aslan.

Erdoğan, however, refused to criticize the mixed martial arts fighter from his ranks, choosing instead to blame “outsiders” for the brouhaha.

“It is wrong that people come from outside to Parliament’s commission’s work to make a speech without having any competence. First, you don’t have the competence to make a speech there.

Besides, who do you think you are? Know your place,” Erdoğan said Jan. 12 in a clear reference to President Ömer Faruk Eminağaoğlu of the Judges and Prosecutors Union (YARSAV) as he responded to reporters’ questions while inspecting the construction site of the much-debated Çamlıca Hill mosque in Istanbul.

Aslan’s kung-fu display was not the sole incident during the eventful session on a controversial government bill to give the administration more control over the judiciary, as the participants angrily threw document folders and plastic bottles at each other. One iPad was even sent flying after one participant discovered a new application for the device that is not listed in the manual.

On Jan. 12, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Hüseyin Aygün posted a photo on his Twitter account, showing an ambulance, which has the Parliament’s emblem on it, waiting at the door of the chamber where the debate is being held. Aygün indicated that such measures were taken upon Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek’s initiative.


Video footage shows AKP MP Zeyid Aslan doing his
best Mortal Combat impression during a Justice
Commission session on Jan. 11.

Inside the building, Eminağaoğlu, apparently not deterred by the incident the day before, was present at the session. He wanted to take the floor, but was met with objections from the AKP. Although CHP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Engin Altay listed examples to justify Eminağaoğlu’s right to speak at the commission session, his argument was not accepted by the AKP deputies.

During the eventual fight in the presence of Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, AKP and CHP deputies walked up to each other while some AKP deputies yelled at Eminağaoğlu, saying, “You are the murderer of the Feb. 28, you are the dog of the Feb. 28, provocateur,” state-run Anadolu Agency reported, without naming the deputies.

The Feb. 28 process is widely known as the “post-modern coup” and refers to the harsh army-led campaign that forced then-Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, an Islamist, to resign in June 1997.

CHP deputies surrounded Eminağaoğlu and protected him from the AKP deputies’ attempted attack.

Eventually, Eminağaoğlu left the chamber, but noted that he was doing this just because of his “respect for democracy.”

The CHP, meanwhile, appealed to the Parliamentary Speaker’s Office asking for an action against Aslan, arguing that his physical attack had harmed Parliament’s reputation among the public to such an extent that it will be difficult to rehabilitate the institution’s reputation.

The government’s bill comes amid a massive purge at the police department following a large graft investigation and a feud with the judiciary over the legal handling of the scandal.

The bill will give increased powers to Bozdağ, although the acting head of the HSYK described the moves as “unconstitutional” on Jan. 10.

Erdoğan’s supporters have cast the corruption probe as a smear campaign devised by U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who exercises broad, if covert, influence in the media and judiciary through his followers. Many AKP officials consider the HSYK to be dominated by members of the Gülen movement. The prime minister himself implicitly admitted the accusation by denouncing a “parallel state” aiming to topple the government.

No ‘fait accompli’ approach

Erdoğan said the government was conscious that the bill could not be approved unilaterally. “The opposition also has an opportunity here; it can take [the bill] to [seize] the Constitutional Court. We will then wait for its ruling. That’s the beauty of democracy. We know that this won’t be solved with a ‘fait accompli’ approach,” Erdoğan said.

On Jan. 11, Bozdağ, who was in the room when the punches were thrown, signaled a step back, hinting that the AKP might back down if the opposition agreed instead to change parts of the Constitution governing the judiciary.

“If all political parties agree on a change in articles and announce it, we could withdraw this draft law,” he said.

However, Bozdağ’s comments drew jeers of disapproval from opposition deputies, and a senior source in the ruling party said Erdoğan had no intention of backing down on the bill.