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Turkish separation of powers: govt, govt and govt

Erdogan and his government’s unaccountable behavior stems from a strong hope that people will approve their legitimacy

Mahir Zeynalov

Published: Updated:

A Turkish ruling lawmaker leapt on a table to gain forward momentum and launched a flying kick at a Turkish judge on Saturday when he suggested during a debate in Parliament’s Justice Commission that a government proposal to restructure Turkey’s top judicial body is unconstitutional.

The lawmaker, Zeyid Aslan, belongs to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AKP, which is planning to restructure the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) in a bid to cover up a recent corruption scandal that has rocked Turkey since last month. A lawmaker who launched a flying kick aimed at a Turkish judge is drafting the country’s law on the appointment of judges and prosecutors. Welcome to the New Turkey!

Last month, ten days after the police launched the corruption raid, Erdogan said he would prosecute the top judicial body if he had the authority. We considered the remarks as an unfortunate statement or even a gaffe, but his dream is slowly becoming a reality. With the new proposal, the government will have the biggest say over the judicial body, effectively burying the separation of powers that is key to a functioning and consolidated democracy.

Three years ago, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ, EU Minister Egemen Bağış and AKP spokesman Hüseyin Çelik invited journalists to explain details of a constitutional amendment that also included the restructuring of the HSYK. We quizzed the ministers for several hours, who went on great length to assure us that the role of the justice minister would be only ceremonial in the new judicial body.

Reversing the people’s vote

The Turkish military then was much too powerful over the judicial body and people voted in a 2010 referendum to change the structure of the top judicial board in line with European Union standards. The government is now reversing what the Turkish people changed in a popular referendum.

HSYK Deputy Chairman Ahmet Hamsici released a 66-page statement on Friday, in which he strongly criticized the government for acting against the constitution by restructuring the judicial body. The statement, also signed by 15 members of the board, argues that the proposal contradicts a constitutional principle of the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and seeks to subordinate the board to the justice minister. The statement said the regulation will place the HSYK under the order of the justice minister.

Erdogan responded to the corruption raid last month by sacking hundreds of police officials and bureaucrats, endorsing a series of regulations that are anti-constitutional and deeply anti-democratic

Mahir Zeynalov

The head of Turkey’s Justice Academy also lashed out at the government’s proposal to change the structure of the HSYK, saying that these measures were not even taken during “extraordinary times,” referring to the military coup periods.

We are watching as the government of Erdogan is rapidly consolidating more power at his hands at the expense of democracy. Until recently, while criticizing Erdogan, we usually acknowledged all the good things he has done for Turkey’s vibrant economy and functioning democracy. Today, he is successfully undoing his reforms in the hope of creating a tutelage system that makes his government unaccountable to the public.

Responding to corruption

Erdogan responded to the corruption raid last month by sacking hundreds of police officials and bureaucrats, endorsing a series of regulations that are anti-constitutional and deeply anti-democratic. The mainstream Turkish media keeps parroting Erdogan’s narrative that his anti-democratic policies will eventually give more authority to the elected government to fight against what he said is a “gang within the state.” A government that has long fought against such silly conspiracies imagined by its opponents is now constructing new ones to discredit its critics. This is what I would call a tragedy of the AKP government.

Erdogan is a good orator. He can speak before crowd of his supporters for hours. He constantly stresses how previous governments oppressed pious Muslims and that he is here to save them from the “tyranny of the minority.” He is also good at convincing his supporters that his opponents are part of an “international conspiracy that is hell-bent on toppling the government” that his AKP supporters voted in. So far, he has been successful in maintaining his electoral base by convincing supporters of the government that the recent anti-democratic moves are necessary to preserve the stability in the nation.

The European Union’s reaction to developments in Turkey has been disappointing as they merely expressed their concerns. The United States, Turkey’s chief NATO ally, initially made cautious remarks, but it seems Washington is ramping up its criticisms as Erdogan’s government continues to crack down on free media, sack police officials and bureaucrats, intervene in judiciary and polarize the society with the prime minister’s deeply divisive rhetoric.

Erdogan and his government’s unaccountable behavior stems from a strong hope that people will approve their legitimacy again in local polls in three months. I’m not going to say that a consolidated democracy is not shown through a ballot box alone, just to avoid being labeled a coup supporter back in Turkey.

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Mahir Zeynalov is an Istanbul-based journalist with English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.