Prime Minister Yıldırım should be more careful
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım recently explained why we should vote “yes” in Turkey’s upcoming constitutional referendum. According to Yıldırım, citizens should say “yes” because terror organizations like the Fethullah Terror Organization (FETÖ) and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are saying “no.”
He also included the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which received around 5 million votes in the last election, in this group.
I suggest to the prime minister that he should avoid taking such a divisive attitude while conducting the “yes” campaign.
There are two options in the referendum, yes or no. In a two-option election, different people may prefer the same option for different reasons. I could say “no” for one set of reasons, while another person might say “no” for an entirely different set of reasons.
The same also goes for those planning to vote “yes.” Prime Minister Yıldırım and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) head Devlet Bahçeli will both vote “yes,” but if you listen to their speeches they give totally different reasons.
Yıldırım says he will vote “yes” because he thinks “Turkey will fly if this happens.” Bahçeli says he will vote “yes” to “prevent inconsistencies emerging from the current president’s violation of the constitution.”
In all current surveys there is a high rate of undecided voters, but that will change during the campaign.
All the facilities of the state will be added to the massive propaganda power of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and it is highly possible that the currently undecided masses will be swayed by this.
But even if that is the case, the remaining segment will still be at least 45 to 50 percent.
Can the prime minister not see how his words, which associate those will vote “no” with terrorists, will divide this country?
Insults and criticism
It is very difficult to keep track of how many people Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sued and how many people have been convicted for “insulting the president” since he was elected.
Just the other day, an academic who spoke at a protest meeting against the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) case was sentenced to 11 months and 20 days in jail. Let’s also remember the waiter who said “I wouldn’t serve [Erdoğan] tea” and was arrested on “insult” charges.
I should stress that insults are certainly unacceptable. Whether it is the president or an ordinary citizen, nobody should be subject to insults. Harsh criticism is acceptable but this should not extend to insults.
Nevertheless, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) considers criticism amounting to “insults” to be within the framework of freedom of expression. This opinion is particularly true for criticism of politicians and public officials.
In our country, the president represents “the unity of the state and the nation.” For this reason, the current constitution states that the president must be impartial and not affiliated with any political party. As a result, in our penal code “insulting the president” is defined as a crime.
However, if the government-supported constitutional amendments are approved in the upcoming referendum, the president will become a politician officially affiliated with a political party. He or she will be able to be a member of a political party, head this party, and will become the head of the executive body with this title.
In this case, where do we draw the line of criticizing the president? We know that today harsh criticism is evaluated as “insult” for the “impartial president who represents the unity of the nation and the state.”
Will harsh criticisms also be evaluated in this context in the new system, where the president is a party-affiliated politician? Would this not be against ECHR practices?
So Turkey will be a democracy but the person ruling the country will be exempt from criticism, right? Clearly, this will be problem that our justice system will have difficulty tackling if the constitutional changes are passed in the referendum.