Turkey's parliament has passed a bill tightening government control over the appointment of judges and prosecutors, with legislators violently scuffling over the contested reforms introduced amid a major corruption scandal.
The bill would give the Justice Ministry greater sway over the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), an independent body responsible for appointing members of the judiciary. The legislation approved on Saturday also gives the justice minister the right to launch investigations into its members.
The opposition says that the reform package is a "government manoeuvre" to limit fallout from a fraud investigation that has ensnared top allies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The law is an apparent indicator of the ruling AKP attempt to cover the corruption investigation
"The law is an apparent indicator of the ruling Justice and Development Party's [AKP] attempt to cover the corruption investigation by redesigning the judiciary," CHP legislator Aykan Aydemir told AFP news agency.
The measures were passed on Saturday morning with 210 votes in favour and 28 against.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Ozcan Yeniceri criticised the bill, saying it was aimed at "meeting the needs of the AK Party" to delay the fraud investigation in which dozens of prominent business people, the sons of three cabinet ministers, and state officials were questioned.
Parliament resumed debate of the bill on Friday despite an uproar from opposition parties and the international community who warned it threatened the independence of the judiciary in the country, which hopes to join the European Union.
Ilter Turan, political analyst at Bilgi University, told Al Jazeera that the bill is bound to generate criticism both locally and internationally.
“The Turkish prime minister promised the European Union to observe the rules of the EU as regards to democratic practises. So this is bound to generate negative responses among the opposition domestically and will put Turkey in a difficult position internationally,” said Turan.
Fighting erupted with fists flying in the air between ruling party and opposition legislators as the bill was debated overnight into Saturday in a marathon 20-hour sitting.
|Overnight debate on the bill left MP Kokturk with a bloodied nose [Reuters]
Ali Ihsan Kokturk, legislator from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), got a bloodied nose in the brawl, while ruling party legislator Bayram Ozcelik's finger was broken.
CHP had said on Thursday it would appeal the bill in the Constitutional Court if it was approved in parliament.
The battle for control of the HSYK, the body which appoints senior members of the judiciary, lies at the heart of a feud between Erdogan and US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Gulen, who is said to have millions of followers, has built up influence in the police and judiciary over decades. Erdogan blames him for unleashing the corruption investigation, which he sees as a way of unseating him.
The government has reassigned and dismissed thousands of police officers and hundreds of judges and prosecutors since the fraud scandal erupted on December 17.