President Gül under critical spotlight: ‘It is time he start presiding over the cabinet meetings’

President Abdullah Gül, who has adopted a soft stance since the breaking of the vast corruption operation in December of last year, is receiving criticism for failing to prevent the executive branch from meddling in the area of judicial authority, which analysts say has led to the eruption of a “crisis of state.”

Analysts believe that a historic responsibility falls on the president to make sure the judiciary independently investigates claims of corruption and bribery in which some members of the government are allegedly involved.

However, as the president has failed to fulfill this responsibility, the government feels freer to engage in a series of unlawful acts to impede the investigation.

Professor Mehmet Altan, an academic and writer, has said a number of developments that have occurred since the corruption investigation became public in mid-December of 2013 have led to the “collapse of the state,” and the only thing the president has been doing since then is watching.

“If the police defy decisions by prosecutors and courts [to launch an operation against corruption suspects], then we can say that the state is collapsing. If a government-backed proposal [on the restructuring of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK)] that will make it impossible for the judiciary to investigate the corruption-linked actions of executive power is adopted in Parliament, it will be the last nail in the coffin for the collapsing state,” he cautioned.

When the corruption investigation became public on Dec. 17, 2013, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sought to discredit the investigation by calling it a “foreign plot” and an “attempt to damage the government made by a parallel state nested within the state.”

Dozens of people, including businessmen close to the government and the sons of three former ministers, were detained as part of the probe. Of these, 24 were later arrested. In order to prevent the probe from deepening, the prime minister ordered the removal of thousands of police officers and tens of prosecutors who contributed to the probe. Some 3,000 police officers and many prosecutors have been removed from duty and reassigned to less significant posts.  

Furthermore, Erdoğan’s government proposed a bill to restructure the HSYK, the country’s key judicial council, which is responsible for appointments, promotions and removals in the judiciary.

The proposal, according to its critics, seeks to subordinate the HSYK to the government by increasing the justice minister’s control over the HSYK and thus curbing the authority of the board. The bill will give the government a tighter grip on the judiciary, according to critics.

These developments later evolved into a “crisis of state,” with the government using all means possible to prevent other branches of the state — judicial bodies and the police in particular — from functioning, so that the corruption probe would not deepen.

According to Altan, the president should have ordered an investigation into figures who prevented judges and prosecutors from duly investigating corruption claims. “Unfortunately, he did not do this. What duty will he fulfill if he will not do this?” the professor asked.

The opposition parties have long appealed to the president to step in to prevent the government from putting pressure on the judiciary and the police force to stop the investigation.  

Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Engin Altay said that Article 104 of the Constitution defines the president as the head of the state. “The president symbolizes the republic and the unity of the people. He is responsible for a harmonious functioning of all state branches,” he stated.

Article 104 of the Constitution states that the president is obliged to act as the head of state. Article 104 defines this duty thus: “The president of the republic is the head of state. In this capacity, s/he shall represent the Republic of Turkey and the unity of the Turkish nation; s/he shall ensure the implementation of the Constitution, and the regular and harmonious functioning of the organs of the state.”

“When will the president use the authority vested in him by the Constitution? A war is going on among the constitutional organs of the country. There is a smear campaign against the judiciary and the police force. The executive branch is putting pressure on the judiciary. The president cannot remain silent in such an atmosphere. We [the CHP] are calling on the president to fulfill his responsibilities based on the Constitution,” Altay noted.

Levent Köker, a professor of constitutional law, has said the president has broad constitutional authority to step in and solve the political crisis Turkey is currently experiencing.

“As part of his authority, the president should call Cabinet to a meeting and preside over the meeting,” he said.

Article 104 of the Constitution states that the president has the power to preside over the Cabinet or call Cabinet members to meet under his presidency whenever he deems it necessary.

President Gül has never presided over Cabinet. If he does this, the move will send a strong message to the prime minister that the president is not pleased with what the prime minister and his government has been doing and that the president sees it necessary to preside over the Cabinet to end the misdeeds of the government.

According to Köker, a crisis erupted between the executive and the judiciary after the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption operation and the crisis is deepening.

“The president should try all his means to help the state organs function in harmony. The executive branch has been working to discredit the judiciary. The president should stop this. He should remind [the executive] of the universal principles of law. He should stress that unpopular decisions of the judiciary can only be fixed by the judiciary,” he said, and cautioned that if the president does not do this, then the situation will continue in a worse direction. “People will no longer have trust in the law. This will eventually lead to the eruption of a crisis that will endanger our national unity.”

As a step to restore people’s trust in the judiciary, according to Köker, the president should veto the HSYK bill if it is adopted by Parliament. “What the government is hoping to do with this bill is very clear. The bill is as against the Constitution as asking to change the capital. The president should prevent the bill from being implemented. He could veto the bill or make it wait in his office. He could preside over the Cabinet. Or he could hold meetings with high-ranking members of the judiciary to find a solution to the problem. The position he assumes against the bill is very important,” stated the professor.

Gül has said several times that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the opposition parties should compromise on a constitutional amendment to overhaul the HSYK. Last week, he publicly said that hopes for such a compromise are growing dimmer. It remains a mystery, for now, whether the president is planning to sign or veto the bill.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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