In lead up to elections, Turkish Constitutional Court nominees emphasize judicial independence

As the elections for the vacated seat on Turkey’s Constitutional Court approach, the three candidates selected by Turkey’s bar associations all promote the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.

Müzeyyen Yüce / DUVAR

The three candidates selected by Turkey’s bar associations to fill the seat vacated on the 15-member Constitutional Court by Celal Mümtaz Akıncı have all emphasized that if selected they will work to rebuild rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in Turkey. 

Kenan Yaşar, Zülal Erdoğan Bilal, and Talat Gögebakan were all selected by the 83 heads of Turkey’s local bar associations by vote. Yaşar is the president of the Çorum Bar Association and has previously been affiliated with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a provincial manager candidate. Erdoğan Bilal is a member of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, while Gögebakan is the head of the Erzurum Bar Association. 

It is widely believed that Yaşar will be chosen for the seat, given his affiliation with the ruling AKP coalition.

Yaşar, speaking to Gazete Duvar, said that lawyers above all work to maintain the rule of law. He said that if elected, he would continue to do this as a Constitutional Court member. However, members of his own party and coalition, including National Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, have condemned the court following decisions that countered government orders.

Yaşar addressed statements by Bahçeli calling for the court to be closed. 

“People have different viewpoints,” he said. “While carrying out our profession, we try to contribute to the society we live in…Of course, our aim is to bring the rule of law to its ideal point - the point of judicial independence.”

Yaşar, however, failed to highlight the acute issues of government interference and manipulation of the judiciary by the current administration, saying there were “problems” as there have always been.

Zülal Erdoğan Bilal is the only woman put forth as a candidate for the Constitutional Court. If elected, she would be the first woman to serve on the court since 2015. She emphasized, speaking to Gazete Duvar, the importance of gender representation in the judiciary. 

“Unfortunately, there is inequality of representation in almost every area of life,” she said. “Men should also take responsibility for equality of representation. This is a human rights issue.”

She further said that the lack of women on the court limited its ability to rule fairly on human rights issues - one of its main responsibilities.

“This shows how dire we are in terms of women's rights and equal representation in the country,” she said. “It also reveals that the high court, which has the power to examine human rights violations, is itself the scene of a violation of rights.”

She further indicated that to shut down the Constitutional Court would be to put the nail in the coffin of judicial independence in Turkey. 

Gögebakan, the head of the Erzurum Bar Association, echoed the two other candidates’ sentiment. He said it was critical that whoever is selected by the parliament is responsible for maintaining rule of law and judicial independence in the country.

Parliament, currently ruled by a slight AKP-MHP coalition majority, will select the Court member from among the three candidates. 

(English version by Erin O'Brien)