AKP government attempts to find ways to contain the growing crisis

In an attempt to resolve a deepening political crisis that erupted with the government’s plans to change the structure and operation of the country’s top judicial body, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has proposed that the opposition parties draft a constitutional amendment to address the issue, reported Today’s Zaman.

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ and AK Party parliamentary group deputy chairman Nurettin Canikli paid visits to the opposition party offices in Parliament in search of a compromise over a much-debated bill to restructure the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).  

During the meetings, the AK Party asked the opposition parties to work on a constitutional amendment that would overhaul the board.

The government representatives paid the first visit to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). They were received by CHP parliamentary deputy chairmen Akif Hamzaçebi, Engin Altay and Muharrem İnce. The meeting was closed to the press. They later visited with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) leadership.

The opposition has been harshly critical of the government’s plan to reform the HSYK — the structure of which was amended through government-backed constitutional referendum in 2010 — seen as an attempt to override the separation of powers and hence result in a regress in democratic standards.

Bozdağ, speaking to the media after the meeting, said the AK Party is ready to work on a constitutional amendment that would revise the HSYK. “The CHP members said they will convey our message to their party officials and respond to our proposal after deliberating on the issue,” the minister stated and added that the governing party will decide whether to suspend the HSYK bill depending on a response to come from the opposition parties.

If the political parties in Parliament agree on a constitutional change, a parliamentary commission will be established to work on the change, according to Bozdağ.

Last week, the AK Party issued a proposal to restructure the HSYK which was slammed by critics on the grounds that the bill would give the government a tighter grip on the judiciary. The HSYK is the body responsible for appointments within the judiciary and has 27 members. The bill is currently being debated by the parliamentary Justice Commission. If the commission accepts the proposal, it will be sent to Parliament’s General Assembly for discussion and a vote.

The legislation allows the undersecretary of the justice minister to be elected as chairman of the HSYK. The bill also mandates that the board will no longer have the authority to pass decrees and circulars. Instead, the justice minister will be authorized to pass decrees and circulars on behalf of the HSYK. Furthermore, the board will be stripped of its authority to decide to launch investigations of HSYK members. This authority is also given to the justice minister.

The bill has drawn the ire of legal experts and jurists amid mounting concerns over the gradual disappearance of the separation of judicial and executive powers and the ruling AK Party’s firm position seeking to make the judiciary subservient to the government.

During his party’s parliamentary group speech on Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said his government will “freeze” the HSYK bill if the opposition parties support a constitutional amendment on the board. “If the opposition agrees to make a constitutional amendment, we will freeze the bill. We will not submit it to the General Assembly, if necessary,” he said. In such a case, he continued, all the parties in Parliament will be represented on the HSYK the same way they are represented at the Radio and Television Supreme Council [RTÜK].

The CHP’s Hamzaçebi said the CHP will discuss the AK Party’s constitutional amendment proposal in its next Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting, but his party has two preconditions. “The AK Party must withdraw the HSYK bill and stay away from meddling in the corruption investigations in order to persuade the main opposition party to work on an amendment on the Constitution,” said Hamzaçebi.

The planned changes to the HSYK have come amid a heated debate over the future of a corruption and bribery investigation that involves some AK Party government members. The sons of two former ministers are among 24 high-profile names, including a number of bureaucrats and businesspeople, who were arrested in mid-December on corruption and bribery charges as part of the ongoing investigation.

Since the launch of the investigation, the government has faced fierce criticism for its interference in judicial authority and impeding the investigation.

The MHP was, however, swift to turn down the AK Party’s proposal. The party’s deputy chairman, Oktay Vural, said the MHP will not support any proposal that would result in the restructuring of the HSYK. He said the MHP considers the government’s plans to make a change to the board an attempt to intervene in the judiciary. “We do not find plans for a HSYK restructuring or a constitutional amendment right at a time when a corruption investigation is ongoing,” he stated.

In addition, MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli expressed harsh criticism of the government’s plans to restructure the HSYK. Speaking at his party’s parliamentary group meeting, Bahçeli said the AK Party has pressed the button to place the judiciary under the control of the executive. He complained that the government is moving away from a number of changes it made to the structure of the HSYK following the Sept. 12, 2010 referendum that sought to bring the Turkish judiciary in line with EU standards.

“The prime minister is retreating from what he said prior to the 2010 referendum. All the remarks he made [prior to the referendum] turned out to be lies. The prime minister has deceived everyone who voted ‘yes’ in the referendum,” Bahçeli stated.

BDP Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş said his party would agree to make a constitutional amendment regarding the HSYK’s structure provided that the amendment will contribute to the independence of judges and prosecutors and impartiality of the judiciary.

Also on Tuesday, the parliamentary Justice Commission continued with its discussions over the HSYK bill. Thanks to its ruling majority on the commission, the AK Party has so far had 20 articles of the bill adopted. The bill includes 52 articles in total. The discussions were ongoing when Today’s Zaman went to print.

Tuesday’s meeting between the AK Party representatives and the opposition parties followed earlier meetings between President Abdullah Gül and the opposition leaders. The president received the leaders separately on Monday and discussed details of the HSYK bill with them.