The president

The president

The position of the president has been causing fierce debate for a while. There is also a boom in the number of investigations launched on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.  
Most recently, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made a call to opposition leaders that consisted of a number of points: issuing a joint declaration against terror, maintaining decorum during election campaigns and respecting the privacy of the family. Davutoğlu’s fourth item in his call is to keep President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan out of the political debate, but the opposition did not accept this one. 

The chair of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, said they had long since adopted the first three items, adding that they would agree to the fourth item only if Erdoğan maintained constitutionally required impartiality. 

It is a matter that needs significant attention that when the first three items are easily agreed upon, there is a disagreement when the subject is the president. 

Heads of states, kings or presidents who represent the state and the unity and the honor of the nation require special respect. There are nice practices supporting this; for instance, when they enter a hall, everybody stands up. His or her movements are accompanied by ceremonial gestures to a great extent. He or she has his or her own special seal. 

They have restricted powers but theirs is the highest position. 

For these reasons, in all modern penal codes, there are special arrangements and sanctions to protect presidents from insults. While the rule of law maintains the honor of the presidents in penal codes and in ceremonies this way, there are also commitments in constitutions and practices on their part so that they remain impartial, non-partisan, avoid political debates and thus represent the unity of the nation. 

As Davutoğlu said, the president should be “kept out of political debates” but on the other side of the coin, the president has a responsibility to keep out of political debates. 

Except for extraordinary periods in our history, it was only our 10th president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who was in the middle of debates causing very fierce criticisms because of his discriminatory approach to the headscarf issue and because he triggered an economic crisis by insulting Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit. This was included in the rulings of the Supreme Court of Appeals. Their ruling at their General Assembly on Nov. 3, 2009, is not only a legal document but it is at the same time a historical document.

A writer’s severe comments about Sezer were regarded as an “insult” by the majority of the high court, while opposing members said that even if they were about the president, the expressions could not be regarded as a crime despite their irritating style and offensiveness. (Decision No: 2009/253)

Leaving aside legal details, just as respectful expressions should be used about presidents in terms of politics, it is also a requirement that presidents make efforts to earn the respect of the core of a society. 

The esteemed Erdoğan said he would be a “different president.” Every president has different features. The personal characteristics of presidents and how they were elected do not change the constitutional status of the position. 

Erdoğan’s campaigning in favor of “his own party” in the elections, especially using the means of his presidential position, has been criticized in OSCE reports. Can it be expected from opposition parties, which were subjected to severe accusations from the president at political rallies, “to keep the president out of political debates?” 

Insulting the president cannot be accepted, but shouldn’t the president abandon behaviors that elicit a reaction? If we can do all of these, if we all abide by the rules and practices, then polarization will decrease, a culture of conciliation will develop and our country will be better managed.