An emerging conflict in Turkey is a consequence – among other factors – of the country’s never having had a genuinely independent judiciary or prosecutors.
Until a couple of months ago, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has Islamist origins, were in a close but informal coalition with the followers of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric from Turkey who has lived in the United States since 1999.
For most of the history of the Turkish Republic, the militantly secularist armed forces reserved a right to overthrow elected governments – even hanging one prime minister.
The AKP and the Gulenists have strong (and overlapping) support among the owners of small and middle-sized businesses. Reportedly, the Gulenists are also abundantly represented among judges, prosecutors and police officers. In recent years, two prosecutions of groups of military officers have seemed to be tinged with conspiracy theories.
Prosecutors have also begun making allegations of political corruption in Mr. Erdogan’s government. Meanwhile, the AKP has begun to question the prosecutions of the military officers, and the government has closed down some Gulenist schools that provide preparation for university.
Mr. Gulen has now raised the possibility that some of his followers might support the once-dominant, secularist Republican People’s Party in future elections. Such a political realignment would be dizzying.
Ultimately, however, it is more important for all parties in Turkey to stand back and to depoliticize the justice system. Mr. Erdogan’s current efforts to control the justice ministry with a heavier hand are not the way to make Turkey a truer liberal democracy.