How equal will the party chair and president be in Turkey’s new system?

How equal will the party chair and president be in Turkey’s new system?

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke at the group meeting of Justice and Development Party (AKP) on May 30. It was his first address to the meeting as both president and chair of the AK Party. 

In the previous constitution, the president had to be a “non-partisan and impartial” personality. Because he or she was supposed to represent the unity of the state and the nation, “insulting the president” was a criminal offense. 

Since the referendum in April, the situation has changed. The president is now affiliated with a political party and is not impartial. In this respect he is no different from other political party leaders or politicians. 

Related to this is a recent decision by the Constitutional Court about an insult case against journalist Önder Balıkçı, which was in line with the practices of European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The ruling declared that criticism of politicians, however harsh the content, cannot be punished as it falls into the category of freedom of expression. 

Jurists should contemplate this: Since the president is now the chair of a party, will he or won’t he be subject to a different protective regime than other politicians? 

All politicians are “equal” against criticisms. But will a party-member president be “more equal”? 

Human rights record 

Parliament’s Human Rights Commission convened the other day after an eight-month break. However, two members of the commission, Ayhan Bilgen and Burcu Çelik Özkan from the Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), are currently in jail.   

Elsewhere, roads leading to the Human Rights Monument in Ankara, the site where educators Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça started their hunger strike, have been closed off and are being guarded by police squads. 

Court rulings to arrest various journalists are against the European Convention on Human Rights and practices of the ECHR. 

It seems that at the moment for the government the scarcest thing in Turkey is “human rights.”

When merit is not sought 

The report that the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) recently sent to the parliamentary commission formed to inquire the coup attempt highlighted that the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) will again try to infiltrate into state positions. 

A segment from the report said that by targeting newcomers, there is a possibility for the network to jeopardize the confidence on the state with propaganda and provocations. “In the personnel selection and placement stages of public institutions, following the rules of competence should be closely monitored,” the MİT report recommended.

If this assessment is true, we can say that it could still be possible for this gang to infiltrate into the state, because one of this government’s most important weaknesses is the fact it is not too keen on “competence” when electing personnel to public institutions, appointments and promotions.

Rather than competence, being an AKP member or an imam-hatip high school graduate is prioritized.  

In the recent Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) election we saw that the main criterion was not “being a good jurist,” but rather being a party member and behaving according to the party’s aims. 

It was the same reason why FETÖ member officers were able to occupy important positions in the General Staff Headquarters and even be appointed to positions as high as assistant to the president. 

The government should listen to the warning made by the MİT in its report. It must not repeat the same mistake again.