Turkey to restructure civil-military relations

Turkey to restructure civil-military relations

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey to restructure civil-military relations

The Chief of Staff will be appointed by president upon the recommendations. AA Photo

Parliament’s Constitution Conciliation Commission appears set to take important strides in normalizing civilian-military relations, as all four political parties on the panel have agreed on moves that would greater subject the military to civilian oversight.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) agreed that the General Staff should report to the Defense Ministry instead of the premier under Turkey’s new charter in addition to deciding to strip the National Security Council (MGK) of its status as a constitutional institution.

The issues came to the agenda at the commission’s meeting on Feb. 20 as the panel members were debating articles covering the offices of the commander-in-chief, the MGK and the emergency rule procedures, which are all related to national defense.

The chief of the General Staff shall be responsible to the prime minister in the exercise of his duties and powers, the current Article 117 of the Constitution says. According to the revision of the same article by the commission, the Cabinet shall be responsible to the Parliament concerning national defense and the preparation of the Armed Forces for the country’s defense.

The chief of the General Staff will be appointed by the president upon the recommendation of the defense minister and the proposal by the Cabinet, according to the consensus.

Under the current Constitution, the defense minister does not have a particular say on this issue, as the related articles states that “the Chief of the General Staff shall be appointed by the President of the Republic following the proposal of the Council of Ministers.”

MGK: Survival as a consultative body

While annulling Article 118, which covers the agenda, duties and responsibilities of the MGK, the commission left the door open to the establishment of a similar consultative body not through the Constitution, but through the adoption of a related law.

A clause in Article 117, which covers the offices of the commander-in-chief and the chief of the General Staff, has been kept as the same, stating: “The Office of the Commander-in-Chief is inseparable from the spiritual existence of the Turkish Grand National Assembly and is represented by the President of the Republic.”

Nonetheless, a proposal by the BDP to include an article against the military’s intervention into politics did not received support from the other three parties.

In the last few years, Turkey has witnessed tensions between the powerful military and the government that have included several cases on alleged coup plots by the army to undermine the ruling AKP.

The normalization of civilian-military relations has been a key aspect of Turkey’s EU membership process, with the AKP carrying out notable reforms in this field, particularly in the first half of its almost 11-year reign in power.

MGK’s transforming identity

Back in July 2003, following strong EU criticism of the MGK’s dominant role and the bloc’s insistent calls on civil authorities to limit the military’s power in politics, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP government passed a package of reforms through Parliament limiting the powers of the council and allowing for the appointment of a civilian as the council’s secretary-general.

Among other provisions, the package also repealed the MGK’s executive powers that overlapped or sometimes exceeded the executive branch and turned it into an advisory body, ensured that civilian members formed a majority on the panel and reduced the scope of the secretary-general’s role by repealing the old provision that ministries, public institutions, organizations and private legal persons shall submit regularly, or when requested, non-classified or classified information and documents needed by the secretary-general of the council. It also reduced the monthly meetings of the council to six a year.

The latest progress report on Turkey by the European Union released in October 2012 stated that there had been further consolidation of civilian oversight of the security forces.

“The introduction of parliamentary oversight of the defense budget was positive, although this, too, is limited in practice. The General Staff generally refrained from exerting direct or indirect pressure on political issues. Several symbolic steps have been taken toward further democratization of civil-military relations. Further reforms, particularly of the military justice system and civilian oversight of the Gendarmerie, are needed,” the EU said.