President Gül: Turkey must raise its standards to be regional model
HDN | 4/7/2011 12:00:00 AM | SEMİH İDİZ
The bottom line that we surmise from President Gül’s remarks is that Turkey should not engage in unnecessary adventurism by tampering with its parliamentary system.
President Abdullah Gül continues to emerge as the voice of reason, speaking out for democracy and human rights, at a time when the future of Turkey’s democratic standing and institutional structure is being debated in Turkey. This is an issue that has special significance for the region as a whole as well, given what is taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.
The first topic that has emerged in this context concerns the question of whether Turkey can be a model for countries such as Egypt and Tunisia as they try to secure a democratic future.
The second subject is whether Turkey should change the structure of its own democracy and move towards a presidential system, a move that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appears keen on, unlike President Gül.
We had the opportunity, as a small group or journalists, to discuss both issues with President Gül as we accompanied him on his official visit earlier this week to Indonesia. If we take up the second topic first, Gül has made it more than apparent in the recent past that he opposes the idea of a presidential system for Turkey. He has not, however, made it clear why he is opposed to this.
I asked President Gül directly why he was opposed to this change, which would indeed be a radical one for Turkey. He was open in his answer, but before explaining his reasons he still made it clear that it was healthy for Turkey to debate such issues – like every other issue – in a democratic environment.
“If Turkey was a country that was transiting to a democratic system for the first time, a presidential system could have been considered,” Gül went on to say. He underlined however that Turkey’s parliamentary tradition was not a new phenomenon, adding that a presidential system is something that is completely different to what we have in Turkey today in terms of the structure of the legislature and political parties.
His message was apparent and amounted to saying, “Don’t tamper with our existing parliamentary system.” This cannot be too pleasing to Prime Minister Erdoğan, who seems to have his heart set on a presidential system, which his political detractors say is part and parcel of his desire to become president himself after Gül’s term in office ends.
President Gül had more to say on the matter that could not have been too pleasing for Mr. Erdoğan either. For example he emphasized that the president, as matters stand today, already has too much power, a situation that he believes should be changed.
“The powers of the president under today’s constitution are broader than should be the case in a parliamentary system,” he said, recalling that the current constitution was the product of a military regime – when the chief of General Staff of the day become president after a coup – and was designed to facilitate what Gül termed as “a transition period.”
As to the first topic mentioned above, I also had the opportunity to ask President Gül to comment on the so-called “Turkish model” for the region, given what is happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and Libya. Gül said the best Turkey could do in this context was to contribute indirectly to those countries by improving itself to become a good example.
“What is important is for Turkey to consolidate its own democracy, human rights and economy. Our responsibility in this regard is not just to our own people, but to a very broad geography,” Gül said. “As we improve ourselves in these areas, this will have a great and unbelievable positive effect on the region,” he added saying, “Turkey has no right to be unsuccessful in this regard.”
Referring to Syria, President Gül said that those running that country were aware of the need for deep-rooted reforms. “I told them that if they move ahead with confidence in this regard this would be to their advantage,” he added. Gül also noted that there was no country in the Mediterranean region that could continue to be a closed dictatorial regime anymore for long.
This is a theme he repeated during his speech at the “Universitas Indonesia,” where he received an honorary doctorate in political science. Recalling during his speech that the dynamics of the current change in the region was reminiscent of the 1848 revolutions in Europe and the 1989 revolutions in Eastern and Central Europe, Gül said that the people of the region had finally decided to take their future into their own hands and catch up with history.
“No matter what caused the change, it is no longer a choice, but a necessity and a reality to be reckoned with,” he added, not neglecting to criticize Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in particular for not seeing this.
“From the very outset, we appealed to Libyan leaders not to allow such bloodshed to happen and to pave the way for an orderly and democratic transition. But unfortunately that call went unheeded, and we are now faced with the possibility of a protracted civil conflict,” Gül said.
The bottom line that we surmise from President Gül’s overall remarks is that Turkey should not engage in unnecessary political adventurism by tampering with its parliamentary system, which has a long tradition, but try instead to improve the system it has in terms of democracy and human rights. This will serve not just Turkey’s best interests as a democratic country, but will also make Turkey “a beacon by example” for other countries in the region that have predominantly Islamic populations.
This is not a bad message to be giving to the country and the world at the present time.