PN Member Joost Lagendijk Reflects on how Erdogan is Reversing his own Reforms

Joost Lagendijk
April 12, 2014

Writing for the Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman, PN member Joost Lagendijk reflects on the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's reforms and reversion.

It seems we have entered the third phase of what will definitively go down in Turkish history as the impressive rise and tragic fall of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The first part, Erdoğan 1.0, lasted over seven years, from the beginning of 2003 till the end of 2010. That period was characterized by reforms, albeit uneven in scope and timing, which made Turkey more democratic.

A lot more needed to be done to make the country a "first class democracy," the stated aim of the main protagonist of this saga, but even his opponents had to admit that many things had changed for the better in Turkey under Erdoğan 1.0.

In the following years, especially after his enormous success in the 2011 elections, we saw Erdoğan 2.0 enjoying his dominance of country and state, trying to cement the status quo by abstaining from any serious reforms, with the notable exception of the Kurdish issue where, at least for some time, there was some promise of things moving forward.

Since the beginning of this year, we have entered yet another phase in which Erdoğan has decided there is an urgent need to roll back some of the most important reforms he had introduced himself before because they have turned out to be obstacles on his road to an almost total control of the country.

The first wave of reforms being reversed relates to the judiciary. Let's take the constitutional amendments of September 2010 as an example. You may remember that, basically, the fight back then concentrated on two proposals from the government on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and the Constitutional Court.

Supported by all European specialists and most Turkish democrats, Erdoğan put forward plans to increase the independence of the HSYK by making the composition of the HSYK more diverse, by having several board members elected by their peers and by pushing back the influence of the Ministry of Justice.

We know now what happened after the new HSYK refused to punish prosecutors who had started investigations into corruption allegations last year, involving the prime minister and his close entourage: The laws were changed overnight, the HSYK staff was replaced and the grip of the Ministry of Justice on the HSYK is back at pre-2010 levels.

The next target of Erdoğan's anti-reform drive is the Constitutional Court. After the government victory in the September 2010 referendum, the size of the court was expanded, Parliament and the president got a greater say in the nominations and, from 2012 onward, the court started to deal with individual applications on violations of fundamental rights that are regulated by both the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Important steps forward intended to improve the rights of Turkish citizens, strengthen the rule of law and limit the number of Turkish cases before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg.

But, as with the HSYK, the Constitutional Court proved to be too independent in the eyes of Erdoğan 3.0. After the court, based on three individual applications, unanimously decided to overrule the Twitter ban favored by the government, the ruling party is after revenge. The ruling of the court has been publicly vilified by several ministers and apparently work has already started to prepare a new legislative package amending the powers of the Constitutional Court, forcing the court to deal with individual applications only after all lower courts have had their say.

As lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz has convincingly argued in his columns, the Constitutional Court was fully correct in dealing with the Twitter case because it concerns a fundamental right and all effective remedies had been exhausted after the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) disregarded the injunction order by an administrative court. The government could not care less. The Twitter ruling will be used as the proverbial stick to beat the dog.

The HSYK and Constitutional Court cases make it clear that under Erdoğan 3.0 every institution, even if recently reformed, will be judged on its usefulness to the prime minister and its potential to block his plans for a New Turkey. I am afraid Cengiz was right when he concluded, "We are just at the beginning…"


Originally published on Today's Zaman.

Photo by World Economic Forum.


PN Member Joost Lagendijk has been Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2009. He is now living and working in Turkey as a columnist for the Turkish dailies Zaman and Today's Zaman.

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