Deputy PM: Reform package will not allow Öcalan to enter politics


14 December 2013 /TODAY’S ZAMAN, ANKARA – Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ has said that claims a new democratization package will pave the way for the imprisoned leader of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, to engage in politics are a  “distortion of the facts” aimed at discrediting the government.

“The package will not spell change for Öcalan or other convicts [charged with terrorism],” Bozdağ stated on Friday when speaking to the Turkish news station NTV. According to Bozdağ, the parliamentary Justice Commission will begin discussing the new democratization package soon. “Parliament is currently debating next year’s budget. It will take a week off after the budget discussions are complete. I think the commission will take the democratization package to its agenda after that.”

While commenting on the content of the package, the deputy prime minister denied media reports that Öcalan will be allowed to engage in politics if the democratization package passes through Parliament. “Claims that the package will allow Öcalan to engage in politics are a distortion of the facts and are aimed discrediting the Justice and Development Party [AK Party] government,” he stated.

An article in the draft law would lift the ban on party membership of citizens who have been found guilty of participating in terrorist activities. It would also alter an article of Turkey’s law on political parties, easing membership restrictions on citizens found guilty of crimes that include embezzlement, theft, fraud, forgery and corruption. The article has led to media speculation that Öcalan may have the right to party membership and may be released from prison.

Bozdağ also has said the government has no plans to hold early general elections next year. “Turkey should get accustomed to holding elections following pre-planned schedules rather than holding early elections. We [the government] have no plans to hold early parliamentary elections. No one should expect Turkey to hold early elections in 2014,” he noted.

Bozdağ’s statement refuted earlier remarks by Ertan Aydın, an aide to the prime minister, who hinted that there could be early general elections in 2014, along with the presidential and local elections.

In an opinion piece for the Al Jazeera website on Wednesday, Aydın wrote, “Within the next year, there will be multiple elections in Turkey, with freely contested elections for local governments, presidential office, and probably, early general elections.”

The deputy prime minister also said he was “disturbed” by an exchange of profanities between two deputies in Parliament earlier this week. “That was ugly. Any act that causes our faces to blush disturbs us all,” he stated.

The verbal exchange took place between Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Tokat deputy Zeyid Aslan and Republican People’s Party (CHP) Yalova deputy Muharrem İnce. Aslan had already been referred to his party’s disciplinary board in June after making an inappropriate sexual remark to four female parliamentary reporters, receiving a warning from the board in November. Aslan has reportedly been taking anger management classes.

Bozdağ also spoke about the recent release of journalist and deputy Mustafa Balbay from prison. Balbay was released after having spent four years, nine months in jail and has been convicted of ties to Ergenekon, a shadowy criminal network with links to the state and which plotted to topple the government. The deputy prime minister said the court trying Bozdağ could have decided to release him during the course of the trial.

‘Commission unlikely to pen new constitution’

When asked about efforts to write a new, civilian constitution, Bozdağ said it is unlikely that a parliamentary commission tasked with doing so could complete the task when Turkey is preparing for three consecutive elections.

A new constitution had been one of the key pledges of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his third term in office, meant to replace a text born of a 1980 coup which, despite numerous revisions, still bears the stamp of military tutelage.

The parliamentary Constitutional Reconciliation Commission worked for more than two years to draft a new constitution, but its members agreed on only 60 articles to be included in the new document. The new constitution was supposed to include some 170 articles. Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, who headed the commission, resigned from it in November, arguing that he does not believe the commission will come up with a new constitution.

Opposition party members of the commission, however, said they would go ahead with their efforts to draft it.

Bozdağ does not believe those efforts will bear fruit as Turkey faces three elections on the horizon: the local elections, parliamentary elections and presidential election, in that order. “Arguing that they will manage to prepare a new constitution in such an atmosphere is an attempt to deceive the people,” Bozdağ said.

However, said Bozdağ, the failure of the commission does not change Turkey’s absolute need for a new constitution. “We will continue to work for a new constitution,” he said but did not elaborate. In earlier remarks, Prime Minister Erdoğan said his AK Party will bring its own work on a new constitution to Parliament if the parliamentary Constitutional Reconciliation Commission fails to complete its task. In 2007, the AK Party set a commission chaired by a professor of constitutional law, Ergun Özbudun, to work on drafting a new constitution. However, the draft prepared by this commission was never brought to Parliament.

Bozdağ also expressed his confidence that the AK Party will come out on top in the local elections. “The AK Party will have the most mayors elected across Turkey. Opinion polls suggest this, too,” he noted.