Charter efforts failed, President Gül regrets

LISBON – Hürriyet Daily News – 7.5.2013 – President Abdullah Gül sounds a pessimistic note for the future of a new Constitution, saying drafting efforts so far have been ‘saddening.’ All talks and efforts did not produce a result, Gül regrets.

Turkish President Abdullah Gül said yesterday that he was sorry to observe that Turkey’s much-anticipated parliamentary work to write a brand-new Constitution has failed. Talking to a group of journalists traveling with him to Portugal for a state visit at the invitation of Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva, Gül said only amendments to the current Constitution would be possible in this legislative term.

Answering questions about a possible shift to a powerful presidential model for Turkey as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has suggested, Gül said he would not become involved in the debate, but added that there should be strong checks and balances regardless of the system.

Erdoğan had complained earlier that the separation of powers could slow down the executive, citing the example that the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court occasionally prevented the U.S. president from taking necessary steps on certain issues.

The remarks suggested Gül would like to see strong checks and balances in the possibly strong presidential system endorsed by his long-time colleague Erdoğan.Considering the new Constitution’s link with the ongoing dialogue with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for a political solution to Turkey’s Kurdish problem, Gül said that as modern states could not force an identity upon their citizens, there could be citizens other than those of Turkish origin but that the state is clearly the Turkish state.

Speaking on the pullout of the PKK militants from Turkey to Iraq, expected to start this week, Gül said the aim was ultimately the disarmament of the PKK and an abandonment of terrorism and that everyone should support this process, repeating his call that the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) be included in the process.

Here are Gül’s answers to journalists’ questions:

In an interview you gave to a Kuwaiti newspaper, it was said that you said that negotiations would start only if the PKK laid down its arms. Can you explain that?

It was a rather amateurish translation. It is not parallel to my approach to the issue from the very beginning. “If they lay down arms and terrorist activities come to an end, everything will be alright,” I had said. And I think the same today.

We’re entering a critical week. The withdrawal of militants will start according to announcements. How do you evaluate the phase that has been reached so far?

I said beforehand that this is Turkey’s most significant issue, and I have spent my time and focused my attention on that subject since the first day I took office as the president.

I followed a consistent line on that matter from the very beginning. The things done today are actually the things that were supposed to have been done in past. If Turkey’s latest situation in the state and the power of democracy and politics are considered, these efforts should absolutely result in success. We are only making the problems chronic by hiding them or sweeping away.

Unlike the past, the recent work is more explicit. Such processes were present in 1999 or later. But this period is different. There are differences between now and then thanks to strengthened standards of democracy. The atmosphere is more convenient to get rid of this problem. Also, everything is open. Everything is being discussed transparently. The political parties in the Parliament are also involved in this process as the elected representatives of the public. So, this should surely result in success.

The years in which such conflicts were not present and armed forces left Turkey were wasted. We all know about those years. There were some standards, democracy and some legal things that should have been implemented. These could not be done, time was wasted. There was still no TV broadcasting and there were still taboos. However, there were some periods in which it could be solved more easily. But it could not be done due to some weaknesses in democracy.

Now we are in a more advantageous period. These years should not be wasted. The things that will be done about that are obvious. These are things that could be implemented regardless of the resolution process. Cooperation among the parliamentary parties would help. Such a ground should be forced. There are some issues regarding the Constitution, such as equal citizenship, strengthening the local administrations and cultural issues… These could be worked on.

Do you take part in contacts? Are you active in the process?

Of course the process is continuing with the will of the government. As the president, things are under my knowledge, and I can share my views with security units or the government. Also in the parliamentary system, how things should be handled is clear. Above all, it is required to see the will of government, which is the will of the majority in this Parliament.

When looked from above, the main opposition party also proposed and defended such things even before the elections [in 2011]. In these terms, a large ground could be formed for an evaluation of these years.

The main goal should be disarming the organization. This is the target. Possible future misfortunes will be prevented if the organization is completely disarmed. This will also be useful for the organization itself, since some groups might try to manipulate them out of their own will just as in the past. When you look at the changes in our region and extraordinary situations, other developments might occur, deliberately or not. So, everyone must embrace this period.

The public has a great will to live in peace. I think it will be useful to embrace and maintain it together.

Can you take an initiative to involve the main opposition party in the process?

Negotiations and talks can be done in Parliament. I think such matters could be resolved more easily with the participation of other parties. The public would also appreciate it.

The other side suggests equal citizenship. What will you do about it?

Actually, I would not like to comment on the new Constitution. The result is clear after all those talks. The situation is upsetting. I do not want to talk about it further and disrespect ourselves. All these talks and efforts did not produce a result.

What is the upsetting thing?

What I mean by upsetting is that everyone has different proposals. I do not mean a system change. This was a second alternative proposed by the AK Party [Justice and Development Party], not writing a new Constitution. The other efforts are not a must. These efforts do not have a change. Now we can see that these works will not go on anymore.

You said everything was not a bed of roses? What is your concern?

If everything was so easy, the incidents that hurt Turkey would not have happened. So, everyone should see that this matter is not so easy. We should observe the incidents around us carefully. Who knows which people are now making efforts against us outside?

If I go into details as a president, I will be subjected to some debates. A person in my position could draw a general line. I could only show the needs in general. I don’t want to go into details commenting on one or two items [in the charter]. This would be more beneficial.

What are the concerns reflected to you in the matter of the expression of the “Turkish state?”

Actually, this is a Turkish state. But it is not obligatory to be a Turk for all the citizens of the Turkish state. If a citizen says, “I am a citizen of that state but I’m not a Turk,” we cannot insist on his or her Turkishness. This is the case in other countries. You can see it in the German state – there are Turks among its citizens. Also, the French state is like this. It is like that in modern states, the state is Turkish, however.

We see that you have lost your hopes for the Constitution.

The most desired thing was to write a brand-new Constitution from the very beginning. The Conciliation Commission’s main target was to make a completely new Constitution. As far as I see, the parliamentary speaker also explained that… Of course I am reading everything as a person coming from politics. A completely new Constitution is not being made.

Consequently, if a Constitution is not made from scratch, the current Constitution might be altered, as in former examples.

What kind of a change do you expect if the constitutional change is made in fragments?

I have always encouraged the making of a new Constitution, but constitutional reform is a matter of politics, depending on what they would like to do and who would take part in the process.

What do you think about the new presidential system?

I do not want to discuss this. As I said on the matter of systems, each system has mechanism for checks and balances on its own accord, which makes it democratic. I only said steps must be taken considering this regard. No matter what type of a system it is, the one that really matters is the presence of checks and balances. [The presidential system] is a subject of political choice, but a mechanism for checks and balances bears importance.

But the AKP has a draft for a presidential system…

These are still being negotiated; a result has not been reached so far. There is not anything that took its final shape. It is only a submitted draft.

The prime minister talked about the killing of 500 militants in 1999 [during a previous pullout]. Are there any measures being taken to prevent such a thing from occurring again? What is the latest situation?

This subject has not been discussed so clearly in any country. When the statements of the top authorities are considered, it becomes evident that they will leave Turkey through the ways they came here. No one could allow an illegal act in Turkey. This is the form of existence for a state. But some policies are required in order to overcome the problems. The policies implemented today, this group ending its terrorist activities, and giving up any kind of armed actions… These are the things occurring de facto.

According to my view, this is the greatest issue in the history of the Turkish Republic. Solving the issue at a minimum cost is what really matters. I wish it could have been solved some 10 or 20 years ago with less cost and more determination. We should not pass this problem on to the next generations. The government’s will is evident on that subject. Some could naturally criticize or instruct it. Some proposals could of course be made. But this would be in a way which helps Turkey resolve this great problem and supports the country’s unity, integrity, and strength. It is not possible to think of the contrary. And no one could be involved in such a thing either.