President Erdoğan defiant over right to speak on upcoming polls
KIRIKKALE / ANKARA
DHA PhotoDespite rising criticism from opposition parties and a fresh reaction from two members of Turkey’s top election body, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insists that he will not halt public rallies ahead of the June 7 polls, in which he indirectly campaigns for his former Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a shift to the presidential system.
“Whereever you go, you cannot remove me from avenues, you cannot silence me,” Erdoğan said in the Central Anatolian province of Kırıkkale on May 15, addressing the crowd at yet another joint opening ceremony.
Erdoğan’s rallies usually take the form of such opening ceremonies of public or private facilities. He has held 11 such rallies since the start of the election process on March 10, while Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has held 34 rallies. These figures do not include other prominent occasions, such as meetings with village heads or addressing businesspeople, during which he has praised the superiority of the presidential system to the current parliamentary one and called on Turkish citizens to give 400 out of 550 seats to a single party - without naming the AKP directly.
Erdoğan needs 367 seats for a constitutional change at parliament in favor of the presidential system, while 330 seats would be enough to take the issue to a referendum.
Erdoğan said in Kırıkkale on May 15 that the opposition was “disturbed” by the fact that he is visiting all provinces and had therefore complained to the Supreme Election Board (YSK).
“The YSK is refusing [their applications],” he said, referring to separate moves by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), all three of which are currently represented at parliament.
“We bow only to God. Not anywhere else. We walk forward and they have bad dreams. We walk forward and they shiver,” Erdoğan said.
“They talk about [the president] being impartial. I am at an equal distance from all parties. Everyone has a party in their heart and there is one in mine too. But I would not name it in rallies,” he said, adding that he was on “the side of the people” rather than any political party.
However, two members of Turkey’s top election body the YSK have said that Erdoğan is engaging in “political propaganda” by directly targeting certain parties.
The YSK had rejected appeals from the Vatan (Homeland) Party earlier this month, along with appeals from the opposition at parliament.
The parties had asked the YSK to ensure principles of fair broadcasting before the June 7 election, claiming that Erdoğan’s recent speeches violated the constitution by being “partisan” in favor of the ruling AKP.
Although the YSK rejected all appeals against Erdoğan, two members of the 11-person body opposed the latest decision, according to a report in daily Cumhuriyet on May 15.
The two members, Ünal Demirci and Ahmet Tuncay, stressed in their opposing votes that the constitution stipulates that the president must remain neutral, but does not lay out what legal sanction is applied if he campaigns for or against a party. They said the YSK had simply not foreseen such a violation being made by the president.
However, the two members also argued that the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) can and should “ensure the rule of law” by ensuring that Erdoğan’s “propaganda speeches” do not break the rules of fair election broadcasting.
According to the report prepared by Süleyman Demirkan, who was elected to the RTÜK as a member from the CHP, Turkish TV stations broadcast Erdoğan’s live speeches for a total of 44 hours and 32 minutes from April 27 to May 3.
Opposition parties argue that Erdoğan’s speeches have led to an unfair electoral competition. Prime Minister Davutoğlu is also continuing with a carefully-planned campaign, in which his speeches generally start after or before Erdoğan’s, in order to ensure that Turkish TV networks broadcast both of them, according to the opposition.
In April, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) highlighted concerns over Erdoğan’s “active role in the campaign,” recommending the deployment of a team in order to observe the fairness of the election.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has criticized the YSK on the issue, but generally directs his criticism against the prime minister. He also slammed Erdoğan on May 6 for “exploiting the Quran” in his speeches against the CHP.
MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli said on May 8 that the YSK is “under the influence of Erdoğan” and, like him, is not impartial ahead of the general election.
HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş occasionally jokes that there are two prime ministers, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, while commenting on Erdoğan’s involvement in the election campaign.