Roundup: Turkish president caught in tension between gov't, Judiciary

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Turkish President Abdullah Gul has been facing difficulty in resolving what seems to be a brewing crisis between the government and the judiciary over corruption probes that implicated senior officials.

The first corruption investigation has led to the resignation of three ministers who were allegedly involved in graft, money laundering, illegal land development and influence-peddling schemes.

The second corruption probe, which implicated one son of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and some prominent businessmen, has been stalled amid a row between the judiciary and the government as police, under government orders, failed to enforce court rulings on rounding up suspects.

The government rushed a bill to the parliament to restructure Turkey's judicial council, a top body that has significant leverage on judges and prosecutors, in what the opposition said was a blatant interference in the independence of the judiciary to hamper corruption probes.

Gul, seen by many as a moderate statesman, intervened in bids to appease the tension between government and the opposition.

On Monday, he met with all the opposition lawmakers and senior judiciary members to resolve the conflict.

On Wednesday, Gul appealed to the political parties to settle for a constitutional amendment to change the structure of Turkey's Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). "At a time when heated debates are going on over the judiciary, I believe that the issue should be resolved through a constitutional amendment and without harming Turkey."

The president's preference to constitutional amendment over the government-advocated bill to tackle the situation, along with his emphasis on EU standards, sends a strong signal that he would veto the bill if it gets approved.

Mustafa Unal, a long-time observer of Turkish politics, said the president is not expected to approve a bill that is in breach of constitutional articles.

His meeting with political leaders "means he does not want to see the bill ending up on his desk in the current form," Unal said.

The draft bill gives broad powers to Justice Minister Bekir Bozda who will be deciding on most issues in the HSYK, including promotion, appointment and investigation of judges and prosecutors. The opposition said the bill would have a negative impact on independence of the judiciary and the government will have full control over judges and prosecutors.

The bill is currently being debated in the parliamentary Justice Commission.

In exchange for dropping the bill, the government offered the opposition to amend the constitution to allow the HSYK to be restructured in a way to reflect the composition of the parliament.

The chairman of the main opposition Republican People's Party ( CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, on Wednesday rejected the government's new proposal, saying that members of the judiciary should be free of political identity.

"A jurist cannot carry the badge of a political party. This is not correct," Kilicdaroglu told reporters. He also reiterated his party's preconditions for supporting to a constitutional amendment at all.

"First, we want the bill to be withdrawn by the ruling party... Second, we want the corruption investigations to carry on without an intervention by the ruling party," he said.

Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a Turkish analyst, said the government wants to institutionalize their grip on power.

"When you look at the draft law on the HSYK, you can see that this board would practically be abolished, and that all its powers would be transferred to the minister of justice," he remarked.

If the president vetoes the bill, the government may try for a second run on the bill in parliament in order to override the veto power of the president. This may prove to be difficult considering possible defections from the ruling party in the second round.

At the same time, Gul, coming from the same roots as those of Erdogan, does not want to antagonize his political support base, according to Ihsan Yilmaz, a professor of international relations at Istanbul-based Fatih University.

"While Gul wants to separate himself from the wrongdoings of Erdogan's Justice and Development (AKP) party, on the other he will need both Erdogan's approval and the AKP's support for his political goals," he said, referring to Gul's possible bid for another term at the presidency.

If Gul decides not to veto the bill, "this will seriously tarnish his image both at home and abroad," Yilmaz said, recalling Gul's remarks in February last year that no changes to the top judicial body were necessary because Turkey had set up its legal system in line with the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) with the 2010 constitutional referendum.

"If he does not veto the bill, then this will be against what he has been arguing for in regards to the rule of law, the separation of powers, the EU process, the ECtHR, the Venice Commission and so on," Yilmaz said.

There has been mounting criticisms by EU officials on the Turkish government over the bill on judicial council.

EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fule said on Wednesday that the EU expects any change to Turkey's judicial system must not call into question Ankara's commitment to the Copenhagen political criteria.

He also called on the Turkish government to ensure that the corruption probe goes unimpeded.

"As a candidate country committed to the political criteria of EU accession, the 28-member bloc expects the Turkish government to take steps for the impartiality of the probe," Fule said in a written statement. Endi

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