Back in the summer of 2010, Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its allies bombarded the country with ads in support of a referendum on a constitutional amendment that the government billed as one that would create a more independent judiciary, part of what was supposed to be a larger effort at creating a new constitutional order that would emphasize the rights of the individual over the Turkish state's traditional impulse to protect itself.
The referendum succeeded and the amendment was made into law, but Turkey's constitutional reform drive has since then faltered. So much so that on Feb. 15 the AKP-dominated parliament approved a new law that essentially undoes the changes approved by the 2010 referendum. In a heated debate that ultimately ended with members of the AKP and the opposition coming to blows, the government succeeded in passing a bill gives it far greater control over judges and prosecutors and how they are appointed, and which has led to increased concerns over the growing lack of separation of powers in Turkey. "Most of the steps taken in the direction of judicial independence with the 2010 referendum are being taken back with this law," wrote veteran columnist Taha Akyol wrote in the Hurriyet Daily News.
AKP officials defended the move, saying it was necessary step in the face of what they have been calling a "bureaucratic coup" -- what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described as an effort by judges and prosecutors affiliated with the powerful Gulen movement to undermine his government by recently launching a series of high-profile corruption probes.
But critics see the new legislation -- which will only become law if signed by President Abdullah Gul, who has two weeks to review it -- as yet another step by the Erdogan government back towards the state-centric thinking of previous governments. “We are witnessing the corrosion of the Turkish state... the rules and regulations we thought made us functional are being trampled on and we are left with no cushion between us and the will of the executive,” Soli Ozel, a political analyst who teaches at Istanbul's Kadir Has University, told the Financial Times. Meanwhile, in a message sent out via Twitter, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, said the "law represents a regression of judicial independence.” [UPDATE: Human Rights Watch has issued a statement calling on the Turkish President to veto the new legislation, saying it "will increase the likelihood of judges and prosecutors being disciplined or reassigned at the behest of the government."
Perhaps it's a good indication of how confused and reactive Turkish politics are right now that the government's latest hard-fought legislative victory is one whose sole purpose is to undue the gains made by legislation the same government fought tooth and nail to pass only four years ago.