The Turkish govt should steer clear of the judiciary

In the past, the Turkish political system was run by various centers of powers

Mahir Zeynalov
Mahir Zeynalov
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A judicial platform backed by the Turkish government has won a landslide victory in a poll that handed most of the seats in the country’s top judicial body to pro-government judges. With Sunday’s key elections the government has effectively taken control of the last bastion of Turkish democracy - the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the judicial organ that is responsible for appointment of judges and prosecutors.

The poll in the HSYK was so important both for the government and forces that are opposed to its rule that they mobilized judicial blocs to rally campaigns for their candidates. The candidates were mostly accumulated around three blocs. The first and the most organized one was the “Unity in Judiciary Platform,” a pro-government platform that won six of ten seats. The second set of candidates ran from YARSAV, a loose network of members of the judiciary that represented mostly secular and Kemalist mentality. Most of them refused subordination of the authorities and their election would have been considered a blow to the government. The rest was independents, including social democrats, liberals and conservative candidates.

Human nature has an inclination to make mistakes when power is left unchecked. It becomes even more dangerous when people running state institutions accumulate too much power without substantial constraints. The principle of the separation of powers may slow down the way governments operate, even at times put the entire state at a deadlock, but it is essential as it prevents governments who are ambitious for more power from turning the system into an authoritarian one.

In the past, the Turkish political system was run by various centers of powers

Mahir Zeynalov

In the past, the Turkish political system was run by various centers of powers. The military, judiciary, media and the elected government held separate powers and imposed checks on each other. The military was widely perceived as the most powerful among them and often influenced how the judiciary, media and the government worked. The system was not necessarily a democratic one and prevented the government from undertaking democratic reforms, such as allowing conservative people to express their belief in public.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had to operate under these circumstances for at least six or seven years. Some of his democratic proposals were turned down by the judiciary. Successful in limiting the role of military in politics and reforming the judiciary in line with EU standards, Erdogan, it seems, eliminated forces that put checks on his ever-growing clout.

Erdogan didn’t have a trouble selling to the public that the separation of powers principle runs contrary to the nature of elections, and hence democracy. His conservative base put too much trust in their popular leader, believing that he deserved every type of authority as long as he came first in national elections. Some of Turkish officials even called U.S. President Barack Obama a “poor politician” because he was faced with a recalcitrant Congress regarding various policy items.

New Turkey, new judiciary

For a long time, the Turkish government has conducted a silent yet very effective campaign in turning the tide of support in its favor. It offered bigger carrots and brandished bigger sticks. From media to the world of academia, supporting the government or at least remaining silent was a sure path to maintain one’s job. In my view, Turkish critics were deeply paralyzed and the society was forced into deafening silence. The so-called “last bulwark” of democracy remained only within the judiciary - brave judges and prosecutors who resisted the subordination of the government.

Sunday’s HSYK election results, however, raised fears of government control over judiciary and made it possible for authorities to oversee the appointment of judges and prosecutors to key positions. The elections were nowhere close to being free according to my understanding: The government offered a substantial pay rise before the polls and some government officials made threats.

Turkey’s political system could be broken, but people’s trust and faith on judiciary should have been maintained. “Selective justice” or a justice that serves only to those close to the government strips the respect and authority off of the judiciary - something it desperately needs these days. Unless the rule of law is upheld, the discontent among the Turkish public will only deepen.


Mahir Zeynalov is a journalist with Turkish 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.
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