Turkey's opposition says no to cooperation on suppressing the judiciary

Facing increasing pressure from ongoing corruption investigations, the Turkish government has been trying to suppress the judiciary with a series of legal and constitutional overhauls, yet it has failed to garner enough support from the opposition parties to push its initiatives through the legislature, reports Today’s Zaman:
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is has proposed legal changes and constitutional amendments and is planning others to restructure Turkey’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, as well as the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), but the opposition parties have said they will not support the government in Parliament while the corruption probe continues.

 “The main agenda in Turkey is the bribery and corruption investigation. We, as the Republican People’s Party (CHP), will never say ‘yes’ to any amendment that would help to close the case on the investigation. While the legal process continues for the corruption probe, no one should come to us with a request [to change judiciary],”CHP Deputy Chairman Akif Hamzaçebi told Today’s Zaman.

A government-sponsored bill would strip the Council of State of its right to suspend executive orders. The ruling party is also planning a constitutional amendment to split the HSYK into two different branches, to be known as the Supreme Board of Judges and the Supreme Board of Prosecutors. The members of the both councils would be elected by Parliament, with a qualified majority required.

The opposition was willing to pass amendments to change the structure of the HSYK when the AK Party first brought the issue to the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission in July.

But it seems that AK Party is having serious trouble getting the opposition to cooperate amid the major corruption scandal, which has led to the resignation of three ministers and caused seven deputies to quit the AK Party in protest. Burdur deputy Hasan Hami Yıldırım’s Tuesday resignation from AK Party brought the party’s number of seats in Parliament down to 320.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Ankara deputy Özcan Yeniçeri told Today’s Zaman that the government, cornered by the bribery and corruption probes, is trying to exercise control over the judiciary. The MHP, he continued, will not support the party’s efforts to seize the judiciary and distract the public from the scandal.

The AK Party may try to blackmail the MHP by moving to end the appeals process of Gen. Engin Alan, an MHP deputy jailed on coup charges, Yeniçeri said: “(AK Party) may try to get support [from opposition parties] for legal and constitutional amendments by blackmail and dirty political games. The aim is to make the judiciary a pro-AK Party institution. But the MHP is not the kind of party that bows to this blackmail.”

The AK Party needs opposition support to restructure the HSYK by constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

On Tuesday, a new bill drafted by the AK Party to restructure the Council of State passed committee in the Turkish Parliament. The opposition argues that the bill would deal a major blow to the right to a fair trial in the Turkey and significantly weaken individuals’ ability to defend their fundamental rights against government encroachment.

The bill seeks to open a new chamber in the Council of State and would appoint an unprecedented 32 new judges to the court. The government defends the bill by arguing that the new chamber and additional judges will help lighten the court’s caseload. The opposition, however, is arguing that the government wants to dilute the powers of the court, which functions as a check against government decisions that violate the Constitution and the law.

Commenting on the AK Party’s initiatives to change the judiciary, Mehmet Kasap, lawyer and president of the Law and Life Association, told Today’s Zaman that while the judiciary is still pursuing the corruption investigation, attempts to change the structure of the Council of State and HSYK raise suspicions that an attempt to cover up the scandal is being made.    

“It is also wrong to blackmail the opposition to gain their support [for the amendments]. Opposition support for the government in making a constitutional amendment at such a critical stage would make the oppositions parties responsible for the negative outcomes that would ensue if the judiciary is changed,” Kasap said.

Erdoğan, who relentlessly campaigned for constitutional amendments to restructure the HSYK in 2010, has recently said that he made a mistake and wants to make further changes to the judicial body as soon as possible. Before the 2010 amendment, Erdoğan and his AK Party had accused the HSYK of being the guardian of judicial tutelage over elected representatives.

With the Sept. 12, 2010 referendum and constitutional amendments in the same year, the number of the HSYK’s board members rose from 7 to 22. Members were no longer elected only by the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State and 11 judges from Turkey’s total of around 13,000 judges were appointed to the board to represent judges on the bench.

But Erdoğan has targeted the HSYK in the wake of the corruption scandal.

Erdoğan accused the HSYK of committing a crime by issuing a statement a change to police procedure that was under review at the Council of State at the time.

On Dec. 26, the HSYK harshly criticized the new regulation, which required police chiefs and prosecutors to notify their superiors of ongoing investigations, saying it violates the Turkish Constitution.

State institutions, the HSYK said, and executive offices must act in line with the principle of equality before the law in all of their activities, adding that an independent judiciary is a guarantee for citizens. The statement went on to say that the judicial check against governmental abuse of power is an essential part of a democratic nation under the rule of law.

More to read, here.