Intelligence wars and the Constitution

Intelligence wars and the Constitution

The row between the judiciary and the intelligence services might have caused damage to the operations of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), according to Turkish Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek. You can read the words of this seasoned politician in detail in the story of Serkan Demirtaş in today’s Hürriyet Daily News.

Çiçek has seen enough in Turkish politics in the last three decades to know that amending the MİT Act to protect intelligence officers from being interrogated by prosecutors could only be a temporary measure to soothe the crisis. Or extinguishing the forest fire while all the potential is still there to spark another one.

“People want the immunities of politicians to be limited,” he says in our chat in his office at the Turkish Grand National Assembly. “But we still cannot handle the situation with the immunities of the public servants.”

The recent case to provide additional immunity to intelligence officers who have been actually working upon Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s orders is another example of the situation.

The current Constitution was adopted via a referendum under the military regime in 1982 and gives superior immunity to government officers against judicial proceedings. Looking at the bigger picture, the 1982 Constitution was a move by soldiers to decrease the role of legislative power; the Senate had been abolished and the auditing authority of Parliament had been crippled.

The parliamentary commissions lost their say over government policies and turned into –most of the time – unproductive meetings done just for the sake of formality. The lack of sufficient parliamentary control over the executive power organs, including the intelligence, military and police departments, is one of the reasons causing the current row.

Following the recent intelligence-judiciary row, Erdoğan boldly said he would not let the “elected ones be victims of the appointed ones” – appointed ones being the public servants, including prosecutors and judges. But it is the Constitution which gives extra shield to the “appointed ones,” namely via the 125th, 129th and 148th articles.

“Some of the parliamentary power was transferred to the president, some to the Constitutional Court and some to the government in the 1982 Constitution,” Çiçek says in summary. “We need to sort this out.”

But it is not the whole problem. The level of power given to Parliament in the new constitution to be written is closely related to the executive power, which was purposefully divided between the president and the Cabinet (Article 8) by the military regime, which overthrew the elected government in 1980. So it is closely related to whether the new constitution will propose a presidential system, a semi-presidential system or a strengthened parliamentary system as Turkey gets closer to the presidential elections in 2014. It is therefore related to the presidential powers of Erdoğan, should Erdoğan ascend Çankaya Hill after President Abdullah Gül’s term is over.

The new constitution, if it can be written under the current political circumstances, is expected to be a cure for many problems at once; from the control over intelligence to the new president’s and the new Parliament’s powers. So the year of 2012 – the year of the new constitution – might throw up some more surprises in Turkish politics given that expectations are so high.

power struggle,