Free press, judiciary would strengthen Turkish democracy: President Gül

Free press, judiciary would strengthen Turkish democracy: President Gül

Free press, judiciary would strengthen Turkish democracy: President Gül

President Abdullah Gül speeks during a session to open the new legislative year. Hürriyet Daily News photo / Selahattin Sönmez

A free press, separation of powers and an effective opposition are indispensable elements of democracy, President Abdullah Gül said on Oct. 1, while welcoming the democratization package announced by the government the previous day.

“The effective and efficient operation of executive, legislative and judicial powers; the existence of a serious, constructive and strong opposition; a free, critical, impartial and independent media are of utmost importance for a country’s democratic development. The presence of a media that has the will to exercise its freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution and the laws adds strength to our democracy,” Gül said in an address to Turkish Parliament on the occasion of the opening of new legislative year.

Addressing Parliament as the president for the last time in his current presidential tenure, Gül cautioned all political parties against polarization, recalling that Turkey would face three elections within the next two years.

“Polarization in political debates in our country sometimes extends beyond politics, which may upset identities and beliefs and cause sensitivities. Such polarization obviously has the potential to harm the social cohesion of our people. Therefore, we cannot view every issue and every debate in terms of black or white, right or wrong, justified or unjustified, us and them or friend or foe,” Gül said.

Underlining that viable solutions for social issues could usually be found in the grey areas and by way of compromise, Gül called on politicians to avoid polarization and stand up for the values and virtues of Turkish democracy. “Let us all be awake to dangers that threaten democracy,” he said.

Describing the beginning of the Gezi Park demonstrations as a “new manifestation of Turkey’s democratic maturity,” the president also said Turkey should use its experience of the Gezi Park demonstrations to strengthen the participatory and pluralistic qualities of its democracy.

‘Let’s leave Gezi incidents behind’

“We must now leave these events behind and look ahead by making use of this experience to strengthen the participatory and pluralistic qualities of our democracy. Let us not forget that it is our differences that constitute the colors and patterns of our national fabric. In essence, these colors and patterns together make up ‘our nation.’ Therefore, respecting all identities, beliefs and lifestyles and finding solutions to everyone’s problems are indispensable parts of social peace,” Gül said.

There was nothing to be concerned about at the beginning of Gezi Park demonstrations as people voiced concerns and demands that are similar to those expressed in developed democracies, according to the president. “However, some extremist groups attempted to exploit these peaceful demonstrations by using violence and getting involved in acts of vandalism. In time, these demonstrations initiated in goodwill gained an improper character resulting in the disturbance of public order,” he said.

Gül also extended his condolences to the families of six people who lost their lives during the demonstrations.

Speaking on the efforts to find a solution to the decades-old Kurdish issue, Gül also called on the government to take steps to make the present atmosphere of peace permanent and crown the peace process as a “peace of brothers.”

Gül praised government efforts on the ongoing peace process, saying the government was acting “in good faith and with courage.”

“During my trips to Anatolia, I personally witnessed the excitement of the people in various regions of Turkey,” Gül said. “The steps needed to make the present atmosphere of peace permanent and crown the process as a ‘peace of brothers’ must be taken prudently and with determination. This for sure cannot be a bargaining process. The essence as well as the solution of the issue lies with the raising of our democratic standards even further.”

‘Let’s build new, peaceful Syria’

Also evaluating foreign policy issues during his speech, Gül said Turkey would be pleased to see the destruction of all of Syria’s chemical arsenal.

“However, steps taken with regard to chemical weapons should not detract us from the magnitude of the human tragedy in Syria. The bloodshed and violence in the country must be stopped,” Gül said.

“Continued inaction on the part of the international community in the face of this situation that defies human dignity and conscience is unacceptable. The survival of the Syrian people should not be sacrificed to balance-of-power politics, Cold War-style proxy wars and narrow interests.”

The ultimate goal should be to build a new Syria that is at peace with its own people and its neighbors while keeping its territorial integrity and political unity intact, according to Gül.

“In this new Syria to be established after the period of transition, there should be no place for any persons that have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity,” he said.

The Turkish president also voiced his hope for Egypt to return to democracy soon by holding free and fair elections that include all political movements.

Turkey sincerely hopes to see Egypt as a powerful country with its people living prosperously in peace, Gül said. “At the end of the day, the long-standing ties of brotherhood and friendship with the people and state of Egypt are strong enough to overcome the differences of opinion between us.”

In closing his speech, the president bid farewell to Parliament, recalling that this was his last address on the occasion of the new legislative year during his current term.

“I did my best to fulfill my responsibilities as president, a position granted to me by our nation. In the last six years, I tried to say and call attention to what I believed was right and I tried to do the right thing. In this, I was guided by our Constitution, my beliefs and my conscience,” Gül said.

“All my life, I remained in the service of our great nation, in the belief that ‘serving the people is a way of serving Allah.’ From this time on, with this understanding and consciousness, I will continue to be in the service of our nation,” said Gül, signaling he would not leave politics after his tenure ends in August 2014. Gül has the right to stand as a candidate for the Presidency for the second time.

Meanwhile, first lady Hayrünnisa Gül appeared at the Parliament for the first time and followed the president’s speech from the presidency lodge at Parliament’s General Assembly.

Full text of the President Abdullah Gül's speech