As Turkey sinks deeper into the political abyss, in which prime minister Erdoğan unleashes steps to subordinate the judiciary by paralysis and prospective amendments, two founders of the AKP, President Abdullah Gül, and Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek sent warning signals, in their own ways, that the independence of the judiciary be respected. Çiçek went as far as arguing that the constitution’s clause guaranteeing the separation of judiciary is no longer valid.
Gül has underlined independence of judiciary as the investigation into the alleged bribery and tender rigging proceeds, warning against outside moves that could influence the direction of the probe. He stressed that corruption and fraud can not be covered up in today’s world and any move to derail the probe will backfire.
He also dismissed any link between Gezi protests and the recent corruption scandal. While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says the recent corruption investigation that involves four ministers and high-level officials is continuation of last summer’s Gezi Park protests and aimed at toppling his government, Turkish President has said he sees no link between Gezi protests and the recent graft probe that has shaken the government so far today.
Speaking at a televised program aired at HaberTürk TV on Friday evening, Gül emphasized that there is no link between Gezi Park protests, which erupted in June over government’s plan to redevelop the park by construction of a replica of Ottoman-era barracks, and recent corruption case.
“These are two different incidents and there is no way to link them,” he said, revealing an open disagreement with the government’s much repeated narrative that links the graft probe with the Gezi protests.
Gül declined to comment on a Syria-bound truck which was stopped by Turkish gendarmes on suspicion of arms shipment in the southern province of Hatay on Wednesday.
He said he was told by officials that the truck was carrying humanitarian aid to Syria’s Turkmens. Gül also underlined importance of compliance to legal norms and transparency even when it comes to national security in response to a question. The issue of truck was labeled as a ‘state secret’.
President Gül also declined to comment on a possible general amnesty for the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants amid recent flare-up of discussions as part of settlement process aimed at ending three-decades old Kurdish disptute and armed struggle.
The PKK declared cease-fire last year and withrew some of its forces to its camps in northern Iraq. The terroist group demands general amnesty for its militants as part of the process, which it views will pave way for PKK members’ return to their home and society.
As to the unfolding debate over switch to presidential form of government before or after next presidential election by 2014 summer, an issue which was raised by Prime Minister Erdoğan on a number of occasions, Gül said he favors parliamentary system, citing historical experience of the Turkish political system.
Gül also refused to talk about whether he will seek re-election in the upcoming presidential election in this summer amid mounting speculations over his next move in his political career.
Among other scenarios, the sources close to the ruling party are floating the idea that Gül and Erdoğan would replace their positions, a possible exchange reminiscent of a political move that took place in Russia when Wladimir Putin became President while former President Dmitry Medvedev became Russian prime minister in 2012.
Also, another founder of the AKP, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, declared today that the independence of the judiciary is no longer in Turkey, due to the events related to graft probe.
“Article 138 of the Constitution has become extinct in this country,” Cemil Çiçek, the speaker of Parliament, said on Friday, complaining that those in power do not act in line with Article 138 of the Constitution which deals with judicial independence.
Çiçek, who met with members of the press at Parliament, stressed that it is the duty of all to respect the law and that it is only possible to achieve justice through the rule of law. “By interpreting a judicial verdict in a way that suits our purposes, we are politicizing the judiciary. As Article 138 of the Constitution, which deals with the independence of the judiciary, has not been respected, the article has become extinct in this country,” Çiçek said.
Following the corruption investigation that rocked the government at the end of last year, opposition parties lashed out at the government for interfering in the progress of the first investigation and for blocking a second one which prosecutors wanted to launch which allegedly also implicates Bilal Erdoğan, the son of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Article 138 of the Constitution says: “Judges shall be independent in the discharge of their duties; … No organ, authority, office or individual may give orders or instructions to courts or judges regarding the exercise of judicial power, send them circulars, make recommendations or suggestions. … No questions shall be asked, debates held or statements made in the Legislative Assembly relating to the exercise of judicial power concerning a case under trial.”
Noting that the law is an instrument of justice and not of politics, Çiçek, who is also a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), jokingly said in reference to Article 138: “We might as well get rid of the article!”
A day or so after the first graft investigation on Dec. 17, İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Turan Çolakkadı appointed, seemingly upon instructions from the government, two additional prosecutors to the ongoing corruption probe, which opposition parties maintained was a move to water down and impede the investigation.
Since the launch of the investigation, the government has replaced hundreds of high-level police officers in various cities, including those who were, under the instruction of prosecutors, conducting an investigation that allegedly revealed that three ministers had been bribed by an Iranian businessman. The government has accused the prosecutors and police chiefs who launched and carried out the investigation of being part of a Western plot against the government.
At the breakfast meeting hosted by the Parliament speaker, Çiçek complained that the rule of law is a concept which people in Turkey generally just pay lip service to without feeling the need to actually act in line with the concept.
Çiçek, who drew attention to the fact that Turkey is among the countries where separation of powers most often becomes the subject of hot political debates, said: “We are the first in violating the rules we ourselves put into place. I can cite countless examples for you.”
During the second phase of the graft investigation, which allegedly implicates the prime minister’s son, to be initiated by public prosecutor Muammer Akkaş nearly a week after the first, it came out that police officers did not comply with the prosecutor’s instructions. Immediately after, Akkaş, who maintained that he had been prevented from performing his duty in the investigation, was removed from his post. The prosecutor’s removal came only a day after he had ordered the detention of 30 suspects, including a number of deputies and businessmen.
The Parliament speaker also criticized the attitude of the government towards the second phase of the corruption probe. In reference to Akkşaş’ case, he said: “No [public] body, nor the executive can in any way amend the verdicts of the courts. They cannot delay the implementation of those verdicts as well.” Complaining about the delayed handling of decisions given by the judiciary, Çiçek said: “The legislative and executive organs need to respect the verdicts handed out by the courts of law.”
Although media outlets close to the government have recently complained about judicial tutelage, the parliament speaker complained of government tutelage, particularly over the legislature. Since the launch of the current Constitution 31 years ago, he said, “It has been Parliament whose powers have been most weakened [by the executive].”
“The executive has become [like] a tutor [to Parliament],” he added.
As part of the first graft probe, prosecutors asked Parliament to lift the immunity of four government ministers, three of whom resigned after the Dec. 17 raids. The other was removed in a later Cabinet reshuffle. The government not only paid no attention to the prosecutors’ demand, but also amended police regulations to require officers to notify their superiors before carrying out prosecutors’ instructions in investigations.
In the current corruption probe — in which former ministers Muammer Güler, Zafer Çağlayan, Erdoğan Bayraktar, together with their sons, and Egemen Bağış have been implicated — that would have forced the police to inform the interior minister that they were investigating his son.