The Telegraph Wednesday described the Turkish government as having launched “the biggest purge of the judiciary in the country’s history,” with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) “firing and reassigning senior judges and prosecutors,” in what has escalated into a near-existential struggle between the AKP and figures embedded in a range of Turkish institutions who are tied to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. At issue are a series of widening anti-corruption and anti-terror probes – launched weeks ago by judiciary figures – that have ensnared AKP elites. The AKP has responded by sacking or transferring literally hundreds of police officers and judges.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said he had urged Mr Erdogan “not to backtrack on achievements and to assure that the judiciary is able to function without discrimination or preference, in a transparent and impartial manner”.
The purges have intensified since last December – when the Wall Street Journal evaluated that Erdogan was suffering “setbacks in [his] attempt to rein in [the] corruption investigation” – though the AKP had already by then removed dozens of police chiefs. Turkey watchers are now converging on assessments that have Erdogan emerging successful from the political bloodbath. Council on Foreign Relations fellow Steven Cook wrote yesterday that “Erdogan is not going anywhere” and that he “may even be the prime minister again.”
I can hear the screaming of every Turkey watcher from Washington to Brussels. I can assure them, I recognize the significant differences between 2009/2011 and now. My only points are that no one has any inkling about the likely outcome of a Turkish election until about 2 or 3 weeks before the polls open and don’t count out Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He is too good a politician and his opponents have more challenges going into these elections than people realize. No one should be surprised if they wake up on March 31 and it is Erdogan for the win.
Turkey expert Michael Koplow echoed Cook.
— Michael Koplow (@mkoplow) January 23, 2014
The controversy is nonetheless increasingly seen as having taken its toll on Turkish civil society. Firat Demir, an associate professor in economics at the University of Oklahoma who has published extensively on Turkish civil society, described Turkey observers as being “worried that Erdogan’s actions threaten the very essence of Turkish democracy.” Demir more bluntly assessed that “Turkey threatens to become just like many others in its neighborhood: a hybrid regime ruled by a strong man who does not even try to give his rule the pretense of a democracy.”
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