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Politics as Usual: The Battle for the Turkish Judiciary

Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014

In the past month, a nasty fight has broken out in public between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on one side and Turkey’s judiciary on the other. Given Turkey’s international reputation as an emerging democracy, casual observers of Turkey may be surprised at the battle underway. After all, judicial independence and integrity are hallmarks of democracy and rule of law, and the fact that the government is alleging improper judicial interference in its activities and attempting to limit the courts’ powers is striking.

While the AKP’s assault on the judiciary indeed does not speak well for the state of Turkish democracy, it comes against a background of decades of the Turkish judiciary behaving as a political actor. Turkey’s courts and prosecutors have inserted themselves into politics in ways that have blurred the line between fairly deciding legal disputes and shaping political outcomes, and this has made it easier for the Turkish government to go after the judiciary with impunity. Previously, both the desire of successive governments to use the judiciary for their own political ends and the willingness of judges to play a political role have eroded Turkey’s judiciary and damaged an important and necessary component of democracy. Now, with the current contretemps between the government and the judiciary, Turkey’s courts appear destined to remain enmeshed in politics for the foreseeable future. ...

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