Is Turkey’s ruling AK Party trying to make the country more democratic or crush the last obstacles in the way of its Islamist agenda? A new package before Parliament aims to reform the judiciary by making it more difficult for courts to disband political parties and allowing military brass to be tried in civilian courts. AK officials say the changes will enhance the rule of law. But secularists claim the new rules are an attempt by the AK Party to dismantle the last checks on its power, after it crippled the military by arresting top generals on coup charges.
The government insists that judges will still be independent and has not, as many feared, packed top judicial positions with its appointees. At the same time, it’s clear that the party’s primary motive is to protect itself from future prosecutions. But the truth is that Turkey’s courts badly need reform. Judges are still deeply partisan, mounting hostile prosecutions of AK members and trying to ban the party, even though it continues to command parliamentary majorities. The latest reforms won’t be an immediate fix for all judicial dysfunction. But Turkey desperately needs less politicized courts—and these reforms are a step in that direction.