The Turkish people were recently made an enticing offer: a remedy to their country’s problems. Former Deputy Prime Minister, Ali Babacan, claims to have the solutions to Turkey’s political woes, in the form of his newly founded Democracy and Progress Party, abbreviated as DEVA, which means “remedy”. Announcing the party’s launch, Babacan pledged a literal and figurative remedy to human rights violations and restrictions on freedom of speech, as well as restraining executive power. Babacan has taken steps in the right direction: all these issues have prevented Turkey from fully functioning as a democracy and developing its economy. However, Babacan and his DEVA party need to go further and demonstrate to the Turkish people a clear and analytical comprehension of the many problems and their root causes. This is the only way that DEVA can offer a remedy that can truly heal our country.
For any remedy to be effective, it must be concrete and targeted at root causes, rather than symptoms. While DEVA’s leadership appears to understand the public’s desire for justice, it has yet to fully understand how justice can be served. Strengthening the rule of law requires an independent judiciary; the last 50 years have shown that the judiciary cannot be made independent without first reforming it. By recognizing this, and addressing the efficiency and accountability of the judiciary, DEVA would become able to moderate the executive’s power through the rule of law, ensuring the protection and improvement of basic human rights such as freedom of speech.
As a seasoned lawyer, with 40 years of experience practicing in Turkey, I have identified key shortcomings of our judiciary. I believe that the following actions are crucial to making the judiciary fit to uphold the rule of law:
- Judicial Independence: DEVA have proposed to divide the Council of Judges and Prosecutors. This solution falls short in many respects; it would not bring full accountability to the judiciary or particularly help it to deliver justice. Neither does this solution propose a sound structure or consider the need to make the judiciary more efficient.As an alternative, I propose the creation of a new judicial body: the Supreme Authority of Justice, representing all segments of society, and independent of any party or group. Its decisions would be subject to judicial challenge before a Supreme Court of Justice, and therefore accountable. To uphold the independent functioning of this organization, the policy making chamber and its operations should be separate allowing no political influence over its functionality. Only then should professional organisations be made to separate the judges, prosecutors and lawyers, all of which will be accountable to this organisation. All decisions should be open to judicial review to guarantee its full and proper accountability. Such a structure would create an efficient judiciary, worthy of the public’s trust.
- Accountability of Public Officials: Emphasis on the need to enact the General Administrative Procedural law is needed. This law would regulate the procedural rules applicable to all administrative transactions and decisions. Such an act would improve lawfulness of the Executive and provide public officials with a release mechanism, while improving their accountability through thorough judicial review.
- Transparency: Like many others, I am calling for the activities of political parties, including DEVA, to be transparent (as DEVA claim they will be in their manifesto). DEVA must make all their party’s (including members and leadership) dealings, movements, activities and finance easily accessible and traceable online. This would set a formidable example for other parties. Parties should open up their finances for review, an equitable allocation of state subsidies and genuine intra-party elections. In turn, this will help to reduce corruption; ensure political accountability and fair representation. I hope that this will help cast off the growing national sense of disillusionment and increase the appetite of the Turkish people to engage actively in our politics.
- Freedom of Speech and Belief: DEVA has rightly identified that freedom of expression is the basis for economic development and international competitiveness. However, DEVA needs a fuller understanding of how it is being undermined, and thus is unable to propose strong solutions to improve and guarantee it. Such basic human rights that can be protected and enhanced only under a strong rule of law. DEVA has promised to protect freedom of belief; to support this undertaking I recommend measures to ensure religious organizations are transparent and do not pose a threat to national security. The most telling example of this was the failed coup on 15th July 2016 which was staged by supporters of outlawed religious leader Fetullah Gulen.
- A Civil Constitution: DEVA have alluded to amending the Constitution to balance state powers, but they have not yet clarified where changes should be made. My view is that structural insufficiencies are enshrined in the Constitution of 1982, imposed upon the nation by a military junta that remains in force despite being amended numerous times. DEVA have set out in their manifesto that Turkey needs to write a new constitution. However, a constitution is an agreement and compromises of all walks of society and should not simply be re-written by politicians. In order to enable the society to agree on a constitution the first condition is to establish a peaceful, free state environment to allow the people to agree on their constitution. Having society make a constitution is probably the most delicate task that requires a framework law, secretariat, procedures and methodology including mini referendums to establish publics preferences rather than individual initiatives of some politicians. A new constitution must have effective institutions and mechanisms to protect it – for example establishing an independent Constitution Protection Agency.
The launch of DEVA certainly offers the Turkish people some new ideas; however, in a climate of mistrust and growing fatalism, Ali Babacan must show the people that he really understands the key issues that lie at the heart of our country’s ills and has solutions which will truly remedy these problems. As a lawyer, it is clear to me that by making these few but fundamental changes to our country’s legal system, we will be well on our way to ensuring that democracy and the rule of law can be upheld, and all Turks can prosper.