Turkey’s democracy deficit and the stalled EU process
Turkey’s democratic history has always been a tumultuous one. Occasional reforms were often interrupted by military interventions, deep partisan wrangling, or economic and political instability. There has been no extended period in Turkey’s history that can be truly called democratic. For decades, it has been more apt to call democracy in Turkey a ‘work in progress.’ A democracy deficit has become a common refrain in Turkey’s republican history The year 2014 will probably be remembered as one of the most troubled of the era, as main pillars of democracy like rule of law, separation of powers, accountability and freedom of expression were seriously undermined. For this issue, we will review the reports on the connection between stalled EU process and Turkish government’s backtracking on the democracy agenda.
First is the official report of the European Commission’s 2014 Turkey Progress Report. It scrutinizes the government’s response to serious allegations of corruption among cabinet members, and argues that it has “serious concerns regarding the independence of the judiciary and separation of powers.” The extensive reshuffling or dismissal of prosecutors, judges and police officers hampered the effective and independent functioning of the justice system. Changes to the Law on the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors and the resultant reassignment of judges and prosecutors hindered the prospect of prosecuting anyone in connection with the corruption scandal. In several instances, the commission report highlights the executive branch’s interference with the Judiciary, and contends that the government’s action should cast doubt on the integrity and independence of the judiciary. In addition, a large-scale reassignment and dismissal of police officers raises significant concerns over the operational capabilities of the police to tackle organized crime, terrorism and other vital threats.
In the context of silencing media and the opposition, the ban on platforms like Twitter and YouTube -though later overturned by the Constitutional Court -was seen by the commission as a major impediment to freedom of expression. The commission contends that “[s]tate officials continued making statements having an intimidating effect on the media. This, together with the ownership structure of the Turkish media sector, led to widespread self-censorship in the press, as well as resignations and dismissals of journalists.” Additionally, the report maintains that parliament does not fully perform its main responsibilities like law making and the oversight of the executive branch. The parliament passed many important bills as quickly as possible, without adequate consultation and deliberation. The report adds that “[a]n inclusive and consultative approach to law-making remains the exception rather than the rule.” After discussing the ongoing political and economic context, the commission report further