Controversy deepens on presidential term

Controversy deepens on presidential term

Göksel Bozkurt ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Controversy deepens on presidential term

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), favors the old system of presidential elections, in which lawmakers voted for the post. AA photo

The ongoing debate over President Abdullah Gül’s term length has deepened with the main opposition reiterating its support for a five-year term but also calling for a return to the head of state’s election by Parliament.

Turkey should return to the old system under which Parliament elected the head of state because the Presidency is a largely ceremonial office, meaning candidates would have little to offer voters during campaigning, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said yesterday.

“What will a presidential candidate promise to the people? That he can appoint university rectors better than other candidates?” he said.

Kılıçdaroğlu made the comments after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came out a day earlier in support of fixing Gül’s term at seven years amid the continuing debate about how long the term should be.

“Our position is the president’s term should be seven years. There is a developing view that the issue should be handled in Parliament. It will come to the agenda of the Constitution [Conciliation] Commission in the new year,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in Istanbul on Dec. 17.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is planning to end the controversy by adding a provision to a draft law on the procedural rules for the presidential elections that will be discussed at the commission in January, party sources said.

The provision would indicate presidential candidates would start submitting their applications on a date in 2014, effectively fixing Gül’s term at seven years, the tenure laid out by the Constitution at the time he was elected.

But the CHP slammed the plan, arguing that a law could not stipulate provisions countering the Constitution, which currently allows for a five-year, once-renewable term for the president under amendments approved by referendum in 2007 shortly after Parliament elected Gül as president.
The AKP is manipulating the law to pave the way for Erdoğan to ascend to the presidency after completing his term as prime minister, he added.

“The law cannot be tailor-made for a certain person. If you do that, you betray democratic traditions and the supremacy of law,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

 “The issue requires a constitutional amendment. You cannot do this with a law if this is still a state based on the rule of law,” the CHP’s deputy group chairwoman, Emine Ülker Tarhan, told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.

Asked whether the CHP might go to the Constitutional Court to seek the abolition of any such legislation, she said: “We will consider the issue if the AKP goes ahead. We will consider every option if they attempt to do this through a law.”

Turkey’s next head of state is set to be elected by a popular vote for the first time under the 2007 amendments. Until now, the ongoing controversy has centered on whether the amendments should be considered retroactive to affect Gül’s mandate.

The opposition argues Gül should serve five years on grounds that constitutional amendments reducing parliamentary terms from five to four years, which were approved as part of the same package in 2007, were considered retroactive for the previous legislature.

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) also insisted that Gül was entitled to a five-year, once-renewable term. “The prime minister may chose any course of action relying on his parliamentary majority but we preserve our view that the ‘5+5’ formula is the legally valid one,” MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli said, expressing his support for a system in which a president would be able to stand for two five-year terms.

AKP not discussing presidential candidate yet

Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay, meanwhile, voiced confidence that the AKP would sort out the controversy, saying the party had not yet begun discussions as to who would be its candidate for the next head of state.

“I am not sure whether [Gül’s] term could be fixed with a law. There is some hesitation there. Our basic position is Parliament should have the final say; therefore, we may already consider this problem resolved,” he told the private Kanal 7 channel.