Turkey could become either more democratic or more authoritarian: CHP's Tezcan
Barçın Yinanç - email@example.comThe climate of dialogue that has emerged following the July 15 coup attempt could lead Turkey toward a consolidated democracy, said Bülent Tezcan, deputy chair of the opposition Republican People’s party (CHP).
But the risk of a slide into authoritarianism is there as well, according to Tezcan, who said the CHP was not underestimating the risks.
Tell us how the CHP is approaching the post-coup climate of dialogue.
We are approaching it in terms of a healthy democracy in which different views can be debated and where you do not have polarization.
The most important characteristic of democracy is to reach consensus within debates.
Turkey had entered a heavy climate of polarization before July 15. The polarization in politics prevented effective work; we were having difficulty at meeting on common points.
Politics turned into a platform creating problems instead of a platform to solve problems.
July 15 has proved to be an important turning point. The coup plotters hoped to make use of the polarization. Looking at Turkey, they saw half of the nation burning the bridges with the government while that government had declared the other half which did not vote for it as an enemy. The plotters thought there was an unbridgeable contradiction between the two and said, “If we were to resort to undemocratic methods, that other half will support us.”
They saw this polarized environment as a guarantee to their success. But both the government and the opposition stood against the coup, which disrupted the game plan of the coup plotters. The coup failed because of the culture of compromise.
Where is this climate is headed?
We said there are three phases after the coup, finding those responsible, normalization and democratization. We are hoping this climate will take us on a path where we can build a strong democracy.
If we cannot succeed in this endeavor, it will prove very easy to slide toward polarization again. In order to avoid that, we need to turn this climate of compromise into an opportunity in a very fast way by moving toward more democracy.
Can you tell us how the work is proceeding at the commission that was established in parliament?
We started work on a mini-constitution package. The main target is to reach a consensus on the judiciary. We have seen something during the work of the two commissions that was previously established on the constitution: when we try to go on prioritizing the points we disagree on, that takes us nowhere. Then we have to look where we can agree. What is the priority area? We saw that the problem of the judiciary is a burning priority.
I have to say that there is one party [pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party – HDP] missing. All parties in parliament should be in this commission. But the opportunity is still not missed.
At any rate, we have the impression that we can reach an outcome. We have decided on certain principles. We want the parliament to be much more effective in the [composition] of judicial organs. We agreed on the need, for example, to have a system that will prevent the institutions in the judiciary from being divided into camps, a system that will secure the independence of the judiciary. Following the agreement on the principles, we will start working on the details and in the end, we will come up with a new HSYK [High Council of Judges and Prosecutors] and court system. We have started from an optimistic point and we hope to continue this optimism. But this optimism does not mean we are underestimating the risks.
Do you think the government seems to have taken lessons from the past? What is the reason for your optimism?
Looking at signs and dialogue, we see a sense of having learned from the past. But what will be the outcome of these lessons? Will we end up setting up a democratic institution open to checks or will that make the government more introverted? In other words, will they end up saying, “We shared the power with this group, who then turned against us, so now let’s not share power and just accumulate it in one hand.”
This process could lead to both points.
As of now, you can’t tell which way this process will go?
From the point of the mini-constitution commission, we have attained a common working language. But we would be making a mistake if we were to make our conclusions looking to just the workings of the commission. Look at the implementations of the state of emergency, for instance. From day one, we said there was no need for a state of emergency.
How is the CHP planning to continue from now on?
We want this climate of dialogue to continue. But that does not mean there is no room for debate. We said no to the state of emergency. But it passed through parliament. Now we are following the implementation. There are five decrees by the power of law [KHK]. Some of them stipulate permanent changes in terms of the structuring of the state, like the one on the army. These permanent changes need to be done by law, not by the KHK. We told the government that we were ready to provide support in parliament to talk about them. The restrictions on fundamental freedoms, long detention periods are not practices that are in conformity with the climate that averted the coup.
The KHKs need to be debated in the parliament. The government needs to cease seeking to make the changes it wants via the KHK.
Some might think that the government is using the CHP; it cooperates when it suits its interests and abstains from doing so when it does not.
Consensus building does not mean surrender. It’s not like we accept everything the government says for the sake of not spoiling the climate. In the past, there was a rhetoric of contention which made it difficult to meet on a framework. Today, the doors of dialogue are open. But we are not delusional. We are not underestimating the risks. There is a window of opportunity for this process to evolve into a consolidation of democracy. But there is also the risk of this process evolving into authoritarianism. We see mixed signals coming from the government. In the past, some governments have seen such crises as an opportunity for authoritarianism. The way to stop that is to keep the lines of communication open.
There is fear that the purges that have started against the Fetullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) will also target other dissidents.
That’s why we underline the importance of the law. Another issue we underline is the state’s encouragement of snitching. Some of the practices could lead to a witch hunt. Sending your children to a specific school should not be sufficient reason to be the subject of investigation.
Do you think there is a currently witch hunt?
We feel that this is getting out of control. When you look at the numbers, you can’t say all of them are member of the terror organization. It might be too soon to say there is a witch hunt, but we are on a dangerous course; we see detentions just because of some social media postings. We relate our concerns to the government, and they do accept that there are deviations from some to time.
Do you think your criticism is having an impact, or is it falling on deaf ears?
We need to wait a little bit more to see the results.
Is your constituency happy with your compromise stance with the government?
It’s not just the CHP; the AKP constituency is also happy about this climate.
But CHP voters were absent from the so-called democracy demonstrations that have taken place throughout the month.
Everybody was on the street the first night, including CHP voters. But afterwards these demonstrations turned into rallies of a political party, so our voters preferred not to go.
There are rumors that some within the party are unhappy with the CHP standing next to the AKP.
Some might be wanting us to display a combative rhetoric. Some might want us to accuse the government over and over again saying, “It was you who joined hands with the [Gülenist] brotherhood; it was you who placed [Gülenists] in important places. Hearing that might please some of our constituency. But the issue is not saying what pleases [some people] but saying something that can bring about results.
What is your view about the Western reaction to the coup?
We expected a clearer stance. They should have first stood in a clear way against the coup and then voiced their concerns. Unfortunately, they first voiced their concerns and then voiced their stance against coups.
They all have certain expectations as far as this region is concerned. Perhaps they waited to get a certain position.
What will your approach be? Are you planning to reach out to the world to explain your case?
Turkey’s orientation has been toward the West. This is not a geographical orientation; it is about modernization. Turkey’s Westernization will continue. We will be talking with our interlocutors and this is what we will say: Turkey is a democratic country, a country that wants its democracy consolidated. Turkey’s position within the West is not something that can be easily disrupted. We want to consolidate Turkish democracy and we want the support of the West.
Do you have some resentment or anger toward the West?
There is no sense in having emotional stances in international relations.
Who is Bülent Tezcan
Bülent Tezcan was born in 1965 in the Black Sea port city of Samsun.
He graduated from the law faculty of Ankara University in 1984. He was active in student associations in his university years, and following graduation he started to work as a lawyer.
In 1990 he settled in Kuşadası, near the Aegean town of Aydın, and in the same year he became a member of Social Democratic People’s Party (SHP). Following the union of the SHP with the CHP in 1995 he continued his political activities at the municipal level and in 1999 he became head of the CHP’s provincial organization in Kuşadası. In 2003 he was elected to head the CHP’s provincial organization in Aydın, remaining in the position until 2007.
Tezcan was elected to parliament in 2011 and was reelected in both June and November elections in 2015. Since 2012 he has served as the CHP’s deputy chair responsible for elections and legal issues.