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Drama of the day: HSYK

October 13, 2010

I suppose this drama actually happened yesterday, but yesterday I was fully ensconced in investigating the extent of the Dormant Killer Israeli Tomatoes, so we’re covering the latest cliffhanger in the soap opera that is the Turkish higher judiciary today. In brief: All but one of the current members (unexpanded court) of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), plus three alternate members, resigned on Monday.

Now in somewhat longer form, with background: As you know, because surely you, too, are a Turkish politics junkie, changes to the structure of the HSYK were some of the most controversial parts of the constitutional amendment package that passed in the national referendum on Sept. 12. After the package passed, the government set to hammering out the transition to an expanded HSYK – the expansion of the board’s members from 7 to 22, the changes to the way HSYK members are chosen, and the way the board operates (it will now actually be three smaller sub-departments, each with its own caseload, which should help clear up Turkey’s enormous high court backlog).

The expanded HSYK has not yet met – the new expansion court members have not yet been chosen. The problem with the delay in selecting new members after the referendum is that the government argues post-referendum quorum for the HSYK relies on the new numbers – so 15 HSYK members must be present in order to meet, and there are only seven total. Even if you add the current alternate members, who under the HSYK expansion would become regular members, there are only 12. So since Sept. 12, the HSYK hasn’t been able to do anything.

To top it off, as now-former HSYK Deputy President Kadir Özbek stated at the press conference announcing the group resignation, the board “has been barred from doing [its duty] since Aug. 17” – presumably the Justice Ministry undersecretary stopped showing up, as under the un-amended Constitution the presence of the Justice Ministry undersecretary was required for the HSYK to convene. That stopped being mandatory after Sept. 12, conveniently when the 15-person quorum became required. Such political games…

One of the resigned judge’s term was to expire in two days, but the others still had between 50 days and two years, apparently, of what I believe is a four-year term (the HSYK website frustratingly does not give up this info easily; under the amendment package, HSYK terms are four years though). The judges who resigned are Ozbek, Suna Turkoglu, Musa Tekin, Orhan Cem Erbuk, Fatma Anil Genc, Hatice Ceyda Kerman and Ayse Albayrak Dogan – the last three are alternate members.

The other interesting thing in this drama is who’s left: leaving aside the justice minister, who is the head of the HSYK under both the new and the old system, and the Justice Ministry undersecretary (Ahmet Kahraman, if you’re curious), the only full member of the HSYK left is Ali Suat Ertosun. If you want to have some fun with Turkey-based English-language daily newspapers, open two tabs, Google his name plus “” and plus “”, and compare the headlines.

Ertosun is fully embroiled in the HSYK/Ergenekon/politicized judiciary intrigue: He was in the news last year for apparently proposing to reassign many judges and prosecutors working on Ergenekon-related cases (the assignment and reassignment of judges and prosecutors is one of the HSYK’s tasks). He’s been in the news again this season after he was wiretapped and recordings of him surfaced online. From what Zaman says of the recordings, it sounds like it was a group of people talking politics before the referendum, musing about what it’d take for the referendum to pass or fail, which doesn’t seem all that salacious, but I’ve not seen a transcript. Basically, he’s a controversial figure, Zaman is very much not a fan of him, and the government doesn’t seem to be either. And now he’s the only full member of the HSYK aside from the Justice Ministry undersecretary and the justice minister.

While the action of mass protest and the statements by the former HSYK members noting their inability to convene and make decisions because of government interference are certainly not going to do any PR favors for the government, it’s an intriguing timing for the resignation as the government will now be able to start its “new, improved” HSYK basically on its own terms – the only members of the old HSYK transitioning over to the new HSYK, at this point, will be Ertosun and alternate members Coşkun Öztürk and Feyzi Altınok. So the government will have a say in 18 new HSYK members (Kahraman will be the 22nd member and will not sit on any of the three sub-departments). It may have earlier looked like a potentially contentious transition, but I would bet we see the new HSYK find and settle in to its judicial place sooner now. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes. I bet the selection of the new judges will be fairly drama-filled as well – this judicial soap opera is ready for a new story arc.


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