By Nuray Mert
April 15 2014
Turkey’s Constitutional Court has become the latest target of accusations from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government, for siding with a foreign company rather than guarding the “national interest” after its decision to unblock Twitter.
The government and its supporters have started to claim that the Court has become “political” after it partly overruled a judicial bill strengthening executive control over the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors. As for the “other half of the country,” the Court’s decisions are welcomed and cheered as a new hope to restore democracy and freedoms. Moreover, the Court has started being called the “main opposition party,” with the president of the Court, Haşim Kılıç, gaining immense popularity, with his name starting to be considered as a possible presidential candidate. In fact, such a prospect is rather unlikely, and is guaranteed to be very controversial anyway as it would provoke the criticism of “juristocracy.”
It is also unlikely that Kılıç will turn out to be one of those strong judges who played political roles in their countries during times of political turmoil, like the case of Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry in Pakistan. Besides, the legal scope of the Constitutional Court in Turkey is very limited in comparison to Supreme Courts in many other countries, including Pakistan. Nevertheless, the political atmosphere reminds us of such examples, as the recent rulings of the Court have created high expectations among many critics of Turkey’s democratic deficit and the absence of checks and balances in Turkish politics.
That is why PM Erdoğan and his party feel extremely intimidated by the Court’s decisions and seem to be ready to take measures to restructure the Court. Erdoğan has already started to accuse the Court of being infiltrated by the “parallel gang.”
Indeed, juristocracy should not be thought as a remedy for Turkey’s political crises, since such experiments never work to foster more democracy and freedoms in countries like ours. We should not forget the fact that, Chaudhry, for one, who was cheered by many as a champion of democracy in 2009, turned out to be a sort of tyrant. Nevertheless, Turkey’s Constitutional Court is functioning in its legal capacity to guard democracy and freedoms, and it’s unfair to criticize it on the grounds of an “attempted juristocracy.” In fact, the basic motive of the PM and his government in attacking the Court is nothing to do with hindering a possible juristocracy, but rather consolidating Erdoğan’s power and extending his control over the judiciary. This means that we will witness further moves to curb the power of all checks and balances, including the Constitutional Court, in the name of democracy against “its enemies” - who just happen to be “the enemies of Erdoğan and his party,” as he perceives them.
Another recent major step on the path to more absolutism, among many others, is the “MİT Law.” The Parliament is still debating the bill that will restructure the National Intelligence Agency (MİT), but the opposition party is not allowed to see the new chart, as it is considered “secret.” The government claims that Turkey has to update its intelligence services, with the U.S. National Intelligence Agency as a model, so that the new law extends the capacity and power of the agency to additional missions, both domestic and abroad. Under the political circumstances of utter polarization, it is not difficult to read this as an extension of the power of the government, which is in full control of the MİT, to suppress dissent in the country. On the other hand, Turkey seems to mirror itself in the image of superpowers, meddling in affairs beyond its borders, since the MİT is expected to be given more of a role in foreign affairs. Finally, the new law provides broad legal immunities to the MİT and aims to hold it totally unaccountable to anything other than the government.
I was criticised by many of exaggerating when I suggested that Turkey was heading to become a “Mahabhrat state.” I wonder what else to call a state that seeks to curb the power of its Constitutional Court and judiciary and extend the power of its intelligence agency? However, I still believe that Turkey has a far too complex and liberal society to be ruled by a police state. But this may not mean being hopeful; on the contrary, it may promise more chaos.