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Tensions Rise Between Turkey's Government and Courts

FILE - Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks to the media in Istanbul.
FILE - Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks to the media in Istanbul.
Tensions are rising between Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and its constitutional court. Recent court decisions could signal a new political confrontation. Turkey’s constitutional court has dealt the ruling AKP party a series of legal blows in the past few weeks.

The court overturned a ban on the social media site Twitter, while legislation giving the government greater power over judges and prosecutors was struck down.

For Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan the decisions have little to do with justice.
He says everyone should know the limits of their authority, if they want to do politics, they could do it after taking off their judge's robes.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party, known as CHP, condemned the prime minister's attack.

CHP parliament deputy and former European Court of Human Rights judge Riza Turmen says the last check to the prime minister’s power is under threat.

"And the fact that the prime minister is not too happy with the decisions of the constitutional court indicate how much we like checks and balances, which are indispensable in any democratic country," said Turmen.

But Erdogan and his party claim he is defending democracy, says political analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners.

"AKP's 45 percent showing in the local elections in his mind, gave him the mandate to run Turkey single handedly. As a result, constitutional court decisions that are not to his liking interfere with the democratic mandate of Turkey, in his view that is," said Yesilada.

Erdogan claims he is facing a conspiracy. He has removed thousands of police officers and hundreds of judges from their posts, following the start of graft probes against his government.

Milliyet newspaper political columnist Asli Aydintasbas says AKP's suspicions of the constitutional court are being heightened because of the August presidential election.

"There is a rumor milling in AKP circles that maybe the head of the constitutional court, Hasim Killic, he would be a potential candidate against Erdogan in the upcoming presidential elections, and the paranoia is absolutely crippling for AKP," said Aydintasbas. "Now the head of the constitutional court is a revered judge, he has not signaled to anybody that he is interested in any position."

Visiting Carnegie Europe scholar Sinan Ulgen says the Erdogan-court disputes can strengthen democracy.

"If they can be settled on the basis of mutual agreement that would tend to strengthen the democratic standards of the country," Ulgen said. "The risk is that members of the constitutional court are appointed also by the president. And if Erdogan becomes president he would then have an inclination to appoint people at the constitutional court that would not challenge his authority to rule."

Some political analysts say the constitutional court controversy is likely to add more importance to the August election.

For government supporters, a triumph in the polls offers the opportunity to confirm the democratic will of the people; for its detractors it would likely mark the end of the last check to Erdogan’s power.