Dinçer Demirkent

Let us examine the legal role of Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu according to the Turkish constitution. One should bear in mind that the constitution was amended through a referendum that was held on April 6 2017 amid a state of emergency and under the governance of the coalition between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Süleyman Soylu argues that cabinet ministers are responsible before the President. The president appoints them and removes them. In that sense, the minister has no political responsibility for he is only an employee of the President. The President is also politically responsible for all of the minister’s actions. So does the minister have any criminal liability? 

According to the Constitution, the parliament can open an investigation regarding offenses committed by ministers in their duties. If the Parliament agrees, the minister is then referred to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court makes the final decision. The Constitutional Court becomes the Supreme Court when it tries a cabinet minister for any offenses committed related to his or her duties. And even if he or she is not in office, the same process applies for any crime committed during the term in office.

Instructions of our President

So far, Süleyman Soylu threatened a member of parliament and following this, the MP in question was attacked, when in fact, as Minister of the Interior, Süleyman Soylu was responsible for this person’s safety. In another incident, the Interior Minister declared a curfew, which he is only entitled to do only in a state of emergency. He issued a circular and because the timing of the declaration was only two hours before the start of the curfew, it caused a widespread panic, actually endangering the lives of citizens by unnecessarily exposing them to the virus. Upon this decision, Soylu resigned until the President overturned his resignation. 

Following this, Soylu bolstered his political career. The Interior minister also banned the activities of local governments which led aid and solidarity campaigns amid the height of the pandemic, at a time when people needed it the most. He has approved and signed the appointments of trustees to replace elected mayors. Some of these appointed trustee-mayors were later removed from office amid the ongoing FETÖ investigations.

In the latest incident, Interior Minister Soylu said that the head of the Constitutional Court would be unable to commute to work without his protection team. What he meant was that he was the Minister who assigned the security team to the judge, implying he might just remove them. This was because Soylu disliked certain decisions of the Constitutional Court, the high court that was assigned to interpret the constitution as the only authorized body. Soylu also said the decisions of the Constitutional Court – and thus the Constitution – was hindering him. He argued that security investigation criteria set by his ministry should override the Constitution. 

Süleyman Soylu openly violates the basic principle for the independence of the judiciary, article 138 of the Constitution, which states that “No organ, authority, office or individual may give orders or instructions to courts or judges relating to the exercise of judicial power, send them circulars, or make recommendations or suggestions.”

He makes recommendations and suggestions to the Constitutional Court. Moreover, he publicly discusses the life safety of the head of the high court. Soylu also reiterates that he sees fundamental rights and freedoms, the rights of citizens, as a direct threat against himself. In essence, he says he should be above the constitution. Yet he claims that as an appointed, not elected, employee of the government, who bears no political responsibility. 

According to the Constitution, the political responsibility belongs to the AKP leader and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. When viewed from this perspective, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu does not perform any political acts. In fact, he performs all his acts as the agent, the tool of AKP leader and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He considers himself an instrument of the Erdoğan’s political decisions. He is the pen he uses to sign papers. This is what the system established by Erdoğan for Erdoğan envisages; this is what is written in the 2017 Constitution. If the pen is broken, if it is out of ink, if it spills ink, the authority to change it also belongs to Erdoğan. Everything done in the name of the executive power is done “upon the instructions of the President.” 

The state and rule of law 

On what grounds does Süleyman Soylu base his views when he says Constitutional articles hinder him? That is because a state that is separate from the rule of law was established. The state is identified with an individual, and this individual is above the law. This happened in 1980 after a military coup was staged. The coup plotters at the time had said they had removed the constitutional order by force in order to “protect the state.” Soylu’s discourse resembles this rhetoric.  

But one question remains. Why was Soylu picked as the pen of the President’s political signatures? Soylu has previously opposed Erdoğan and hails from the center-right tradition? Because due to the alliance between the AKP and MHP, Süleyman Soylu is able to carry out the political decisions of that coalition and is volunteering to do so.