THE BLOG
09/02/2014 10:26 am ET Updated Nov 02, 2014

New Era With a New Prime Minister in Turkey?

This post was coauthored with Assistant Professor Aylin Ünver Noi, Visiting Scholar, Center for Transatlantic Relations SAIS, Johns Hopkins University.

Former Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was nominated by President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as Turkey's new prime minister over a week ago. His support for Erdogan in his political battle against the Gülen Movement and their affiliates in the state was one of the main determining factors of President Erdoğan's decision. After the announcement of Ahmed Davutoğlu as a candidate for prime minister and the leader of the AK Party (AKP) following the Central Executive Board (MYK) meeting held on 21 August 2014, Erdoğan emphasized further acts to eradicate Gülen affiliation in the administration in his speech. Davutoğlu, as incoming prime minister and the new leader of the AK Party, said that Turkey's transformation, restoration and the government's reform-centric agenda would continue.

Corruption, Crackdown on Police, Judiciary, and Freedom of the Press

The Gülen Movement's once-good relationship with the AKP government started to deteriorate after the demise of the common threat -- Kemalists in the administration and the army. The power struggle that began between the AKP and the Gülen Movement was exacerbated after the AKP's decision to close the Movement's preparatory schools (dershane). After the AKP's move against sources of financial support of the Gulen Movement and its places to educate conservative young Muslims, the AKP was faced with the biggest corruption scandal in Turkish Republican history on December 17 last year when a massive wiretapping operation was uncovered by Gülen affiliates in the government. Pro-Gülen Turkish police detained around 50 people, including sons of ministers, on corruption, money laundering and bribery grounds. It led four ministers to resign and damaged the image of the AKP, which was built on being a clean party.

Erdoğan responded by not only denying the allegations but also altering the directive for judicial police overnight, issuing a new directive prohibiting press and journalists from going to police departments without prior authorization, halting the second wave of investigation, attempting to change the structure of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSJP) and police involved in these investigations, and proposing curbs on the HSJP's powers.

The battle between the AKP and the Gülen Movement has continued over the judiciary, as the AKP submitted a draft law to increase its control over the justice department. Turkey's crackdown on police and judiciary were followed by the EU with concern and interpreted as acts jeopardizing EU accession talks due to their potential to undermine the rule of law and separation of powers. The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, interpreted these acts as a "setback for the independence of the judiciary in Turkey."

Another move by Gülen-affiliated police forces was to investigate a truck, allegedly loaded with weapons, en route to Syria. The IHH, an Islamic NGO that is closely aligned with Erdoğan's government, is suspected of sending weapons to Syria. Moreover, it was accused of having had a hand in the affair with the truck. Following the leaking of the story to the media and the emergence of an audio recording playing a discussion by top Turkish officials of possible military operations in Syria to discredit former Prime Minister Erdoğan, the conflict between the Gülen Movement and the AKP reached its peak.

The acts of Gülen-affiliated police, accused of harming national security, brought this issue once more to the agenda along with the delicate balance between national security and the people's right to know. Actually, this did not happen for the first time. During the Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) cases, in which an alleged network of officers and civilians who were blamed for a planned coup, secrets of the army's plans that were also harmful to national security were revealed by the media and leaked to them by the same sources -- a "parallel state," allegedly a network of police and prosecutors who were acting on behalf of the Gülen Movement.

This is reminiscent of Amitai Etzioni's "Liberal Communitarian approach to security limitations on the freedom of the press" related to the leaking of top-secret U.S government documents to the press by government officials and the subsequent investigations to identify the leakers. In Etzioni's definition, the Liberal Communitarian approach is "dedicated to achieving a balance between individual rights and social responsibilities, which emanates from the need to serve the common good." This approach, which is criticized due to the loyalties to collective values and common goods that have the potential to prevent individuals from exercising freedom of choice, focuses on "the public's right to know and the freedom of the press must be balanced with concern for national security, rather than from the position that limitations on the press are ipso facto a violation of a basic right or freedom."

After the March 2014 local elections, which resulted in an AKP victory, the Erdogan administration deepened their fight against the Gülen Movement and their affiliates in the state. The second round of the battle between the Gülen Movement and the AKP started with the arrest of police that were part of the leaking of wiretapping related to the corruption scandal, and other issues related to national security. They were accused of illegal wiretapping of politicians and bureaucrats.

Concept of Neutral Competence -- A Possible Light for Turkish Democracy

Political/democratic control of bureaucracy is becoming a complicated issue in Turkey as a result of the struggle between the AKP and the Gülen Movement. In Herbert Kaufmann's definition, neutral competence is a concept that has long been regarded as an essential value in the field of public administration. He defines the concept as "the ability to do work of government expertly, and to do it according to explicit objective standards rather than the personal or party or other obligations and loyalties." The witch hunt declared against the "parallel state" has the potential to target not only members of the Movement but also people who displeased the government without being part of the Movement. When we look at the latest developments in Turkey, it is obvious to say that politicization of the bureaucracy, whether through the alleged "parallel state" with loyalties to the Gülen Movement or possible placement of new bureaucrats who are close to the AKP government, is against the spirit of the concept "neutral competence" in public administration.

Tough tasks await incoming Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. In the upcoming days, the Davutoğlu administration will show us whether it is possible to maintain a delicate balance not only between freedom of expression and national security without damaging democratic principles such as the rule of law and freedoms, but also the essential values of public administration such as neutral competence and the principles of good governance such as transparency and accountability. Most importantly, Davutoğlu is famous for guiding Turkey's "zero problems with neighbors" foreign policy; is it possible for him as Turkey's new prime minister to achieve a policy of "zero problems with all its citizens?"