May 20, 2010

The BDP, which is opposing the package just like the CHP and MHP, is going to have considerable difficulty in explaining its strange stance to its constituency

By: Abdulla Hawez khoshnaw
May 03, 2010

An interview with "Bülent Keneş" editor-in-chief of Todays zaman. He is answering our questions about Turkish constitutional amendments, and president Barzani's visit to Turkey.

Abdulla: Can you tell us, what are the most important articles in the Governments constitutional amendments?

Bülent Keneş: As you know, Turkey’s current constitution was fashioned by soldiers following the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup d’état. The constitution, which the soldiers formulized in such a way as to perpetuate the military coup regime and military tutelage over the political system, has been amended a total 16 times to date. Despite the scores of changes, none of these affected the constitution’s militarist spirit. Today’s reform package is the first attempt to change those constitutional articles which enshrine the Sept. 12 military order and the sword of immunity of the military. When viewed from this perspective, the most important articles in this amendment package are the changes that pave the way for soldiers to be tried in civilian courts and the changes to the organization of the high judiciary that save the high judiciary from the Kemalist-militarist monopolization of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) line.

            It is glaringly clear that the processes of the high judiciary and normal judiciary determined by the prosecutors and judges appointed by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) are controlled by the CHP, military and high judicial bureaucracy. The current HSYK comprises seven members; the justice minister and undersecretary of the Justice Ministry fill two of these seats, while the remaining five positions are determined by the Supreme Court of Appeals and Council of State. This means that the HSYK determines the members of the Supreme Court of Appeals and Council of State, and these two organs in turn determine the HSYK membership. That is to say, the Turkish high judiciary controls the entire judicial mechanism as part of a system that is shut off from the public and oligarchic. The system is independent from politics, but not impartial. It is under the direction of the military, the judicial bureaucracy and the CHP. And if it is considered that during the time of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) administration, the decisions made by the Constitutional Court, Council of State and Supreme Court of Appeals have all been against the government and the expectations of the public, we can understand easily that it is not possible to speak of the impartiality of the high judiciary.

            The reform package in question reorganizes the HSYK’s structure so that instead of just 500 high justices, it will represent all of the roughly 12,000 judges and prosecutors, and so that Parliament will have a say in the matter as well. Taking European Union criteria and examples from European countries as a model, the number of HSYK members is increased to 21 in the package. While there is no parallel to the current HSYK in any democratic state of law, the recommended structure can find its likes in many western democratic states of law.

            In addition, the 11-member Constitutional Court will have its membership increased to 17, paving the way for the institution to make impartial and independent decisions. The Constitutional Court, which almost shut down the AK Party that won the votes of 47 percent of the public, and in the past has shut down 26 political parties, most of them pro-Kurdish, will have a tougher time shutting down political parties under this new organization, and will have its decisions subject to parliamentary approval. Unfortunately, this article has dropped form the package since BDP has not given support for it.

            The reform package also amends the laws that grant immunity to the generals who staged the Sept. 12, 1980 coup and pave the way for the trial of these coup generals.        


Abdulla: In your opinion, can AK Party passes the whole package at the parliament?

Bülent Keneş:  The AK Party has unfortunately stood alone in its reform efforts. All of the other actors in Turkish politics -- the victim of the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup d’état -- have unfortunately turned their backs to this historic opportunity. Despite the fact that the CHP is the only political benefactor of current resistance to the reform, the MHP and BDP haven’t shied from taking their place on the CHP line opposing constitutional change, despite over 60 percent of their voters support the reform package. Despite this, I think that the reform package to transform the republic, which is a national security state, into a democratic republic will be passed in parliament and presented to the people for a referendum. The package has succeded in securing between 331 and 339 votes for the first round of voting, and even if supported only by the AK Party will gain the minimum votes necessary to go to referendum. In the case that the AK Party doesn’t lose any votes from its own deputies, and gets over 330 votes but does not gain the 367 votes that would mean the package would go directly to the president for approval, then the package must go to the public in a referendum. In my opinion, the package’s going to referendum is a great opportunity for constitutional change. A reform approved or rejected by the people makes it out of the question for the Constitutional Court to repeal the result.

 Abdulla: Have anything in the constitutional package that improves the democratic standards for the sake of Kurdish issue? If yes, why BDP didn't vote for the most articles?

Bülent Keneş:  It is without a doubt that our Kurdish citizens are the biggest victims of both the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup and the political order and Constitution that this coup erected. The 30-article constitutional reform package contains elements that will lessen this victimhood. For example, the political parties shut down the most in this country are parties that are traditionally pro-Kurdish. One of the articles in the reform package makes it more difficult to shut down political parties. When you consider that the most recently shut-down party was the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), it can be easily guessed that this amendment article will pave the way for an incredible easing of Kurdish politics. Unfortunately, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) established in the DTP’s stead has elected to support the chauvinist and militarist policies of the CHP and MHP instead of supporting the constitutional amendment package that will benefit Kurds the most, due to the BDP having other expectations from the government outside of constitutional change. Certainly, the BDP is right to raise voice on the subject of bringing the elections threshold down further from the 10 percent from the AK Party, and the dealing of funds from the Treasury to them. But this desire of the BDP’s has nothing to do with the constitutional reform package. What falls upon the BDP is for them to support the package, and it falls upon democrats to lend an ear to the party’s demands regarding the elections threshold. The BDP, which is opposing the package just like the CHP and MHP, is going to have considerable difficulty in explaining its strange stance to its constituency. And, unfortunately on Monday since BDP did not give support, the amendment related to party closure has droped from the refrom package.    

Abdulla: As we are observing, the democratic initiative by the Turkish government almost stopped, in your view of point, what are the reasons behind halting this initiative?

Bülent Keneş:  In Turkey, it’s not possible to effect democratic initiatives without shifting the system’s structural foundations. Your ability to conduct a reform on one topic, to begin upon an enterprise is closely related to foreign policy, general domestic politics, security perceptions and the system of the high judiciary. Ultimately, problems like the Kurdish problem, the Alevi problem and the problems of minorities boil down to Turkey’s system problem. Turkey is encountering difficulty in solving these other problems one by one without solving this broader systematic problem. For example, the initiative to solve the Kurdish problem gets bogged down by the judiciary’s shutting down the Kurdish party, or when some militarist circles conduct conspiratorial plots. The AK Party is for the first time doing the right thing as opposed to individual initiatives. It is attempting to correct the twisted system that creates all these problems. In the event that the country’s problems with regard to becoming a nation of democracy and a state of law are solved, we can say from now that the process to solve the Kurdish problem and the other problems will move more quickly. When you look at it in this way, it’s not possible to speak of a pause or retreat from the democratic initiative. Just the opposite, an attempt is being made to remove the obstacles from the course, one by one. We will all observe together how the democratic initiative will gain speed following the completion of the constitutional amendment process.

Abdulla: If the AKP could pass the constitutional reform package, what is likely going to be CHP, military, and judiciary's reaction?

Bülent Keneş: We known that a pro-coup formation within the military is doing all it can to stall democratic initiatives. The CHP has announced that it appeal the package at the Constitutional Court. I also think that prevocational acts that might be staged at this time by some axis of evil within the military might also be partially influential. I think the CHP will not achieve any results from this move as challenging a package being referred to a public referendum at the Constitutional Court is neither lawful, nor democratic. It would be a big surprise if the Constitutional Court accepts this appeal at the risk of completely ignoring the law and democracy, and it would also mean that Turkey is neither ruled under the rule of law a democracy. What surprises me most however, is not the CHP or the military. I am most surprised by the BDP’s anti stance and the PKK’s escalating violence and terrorist acts in a way that would serve the interests of the hawkish members of the military and the fascists in the MHP and the CHP. I have no longer any doubt that the PKK, which is escalating bloody acts at a time when hawkish generals, the CHP, the MHP and the oligarchic high judiciary need exactly that, is on the side of a militarist order rather than democracy.

Abdulla: Kurdistan President Mr. Massud Barzani is going to visit Turkey in a formal trip, in your opinion, what's going to be the discussion between Barzani and Turkish high ranks? Does Barzani visit Turkey as a president or under his PDK title?

Bülent KeneşTurkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s visit to Arbil in November of 2009 has been a milestone in relations between Turkey and the Northern Iraq Regional Kurdish Administration. I think Barzani’s trip will be a courtesy visit to return Davutoğlu’s visit. Important issues such as the establishment of a Turkish Consulate in Arbil and the Turkish Airlines’ starting regular flights to that city might be taken up during this visit. The discussion topics might include cooperation in trade, education and cultural relations as well as the state of Iraq’s Kurds in the post-election chaos. Naturally, I presume that the attitude of the Barzani administration against the presence of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the region and the role northern Iraq might play in the Turkish government’s democratic initiative will come up during the talks.

Abdulla: My last question, if AKP could pass the constitutional changes, and people voted for the changes, what's going to be the future of Kurdish issue?

Bülent KeneşOur Kurdish citizens will benefit the most from the Constitutional reform that will be carried out despite the Peace and Democracy Party’s (BDP) stance against the package. Thanks to these reforms, the military leg of the investigation into Ergenekon will deepen and this will create the opportunity for a more profound and through investigation into the unsolved murders in the southeast. The Kurds, who have suffered worst under the current system, will benefit the most from the increasingly democratic atmosphere of the country and its higher standards of law.

This interview published on "AsoyNewdawlati" in Kurdish