ISTANBUL, (Reuters) – Turkey’s parliament will be presented with a package of constitutional amendments that have pitted the government against the judiciary in a week to 10 days and the government plans a referendum on the changes soon after, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said on Saturday.
Public approval of the European Union-inspired changes, which would make it harder to ban political parties and reform the way judges and prosecutors are appointed, would make it less likely for the Constitutional Court to strike down the amendments, Ergin told reporters.
“We object to the current structure of the judiciary because it overextends its powers and creates laws by overstepping the authority of the parliament,” he said.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party, which has roots in a banned Islamist movement, has clashed with the secularist judiciary over efforts to introduce more government oversight of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which appoints court officers.
Tensions were exacerbated last month with the arrest of a prosecutor and dozens of military officers for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government, wobbling financial markets worried about political stability in the $650 billion economy.
Earlier this month, the head of the Constitutional Court urged Erdogan to seek consensus rather than force through reforms to ease the strains generated by the detentions in the so-called Ergenekon coup investigation.
The proposed package consists of “urgent and limited” amendments of 10 to 15 articles, including rules to curb the role of the Constitutional Court, Ergin said. He would not specify whether the new rules would help the ruling AK Party avert a new closure case.
There is speculation in the media and among some investors that prosecutors could open another case to outlaw the business-friendly, pro-EU AK party, which narrowly escaped a ban in 2008 on charges it undermined Turkey’s secular constitution.
Banning parties “is obviously a problem in Turkey, which has closed some 25 parties,” Ergin said. “That’s why we have the new regulations to make party closures more difficult.”
Turkish democracy has also been tested by repeated interventions from the military, the self-appointed guardian of the country’s secular system. The army ousted three governments in outright coups between 1960 and 1980 and pressured a fourth, Turkey’s first Islamist-led, to resign in 1997. “Turkey needs to consolidate democracy to be less susceptible to military coups,” Ergin said.
The Justice Ministry would examine charges of wrongdoing in the Ergenekon investigation and trial, but criticism of the case has come mainly from those named in the indictments or from those with close ties to suspects, Ergin said.
Nearly 200 people, including academics, journalists and army officers, are on trial for allegedly conspiring to topple the government. Opponents have called it a political witch hunt.
Overhaul of the HSYK is among the most contentious issues in the row with the judiciary, Ergin said. Five judges from two courts dominate the board, and the government wants to expand it to 21 members, with a third of them appointed by parliament.
Reforming the board is required to meet EU membership rules, Ergin said. Brussels has called on Turkey to make the judges’ council more representative and independent.