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‘A de-facto civilian coup is happening in Turkey:’ Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu

Politics Commentary

‘A de-facto civilian coup is happening in Turkey:’ Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu


ANKARA: Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) since 2010, entered parliament as a deputy from Istanbul in 2002. Described as the founding party of modern Turkey, the CHP, which espouses secularism, pro-Europeanism and liberal democracy, contested the 2018 general election as part of a four-party Nation Alliance. Kilicdaroglu recently gave an interview to the Independent Turkish in Ankara that touched on a broad range of issues.

Q: Let me start with the proposals that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced specifically regarding social media. With the abuses directed at (Erdogan’s son-in-law and Turkish Minister of Treasury and Finance) Berat Albayrak and his wife Esra Albayrak on social media, the trial of (CHP politician) Canan Kaftancioglu for a tweet she posted seven years ago, and the targeting of (jailed opposition HDP MP) Selahattin Demirtas’s wife, the issue of social media in Turkey has taken on a completely different dimension.

There are those who warn of repeating the Iranian and North Korean models, and there are those who refer to the French and German models. We noted in Erdogan’s statements the phrase “we will shut down,” and soon after that, (Turkish presidency’s Communications Director) Fahrettin Altun said: “We are a democratic country.” Is it necessary to introduce amendments to the law governing social media? If so, what will the boundaries of these amendments be?

A: First of all, liberal systems should not be bothered by the media because the media, on behalf of the public, keeps a check on the rulers. If they make mistakes, the media takes note of them, and if they accomplish something, the media of course also takes note of them.

The media has the ability to monitor the performance of official authorities and correct their course, and this is why the media is referred to as the Fourth Estate in democratic systems.

As for authoritarian regimes, they are annoyed by this monitoring, so they seek to silence the media. Turkey today faces this kind of truth, which has been known to us.

Now, Erdogan’s statement about social media was exactly the following: “We want these social media platforms completely shut down or controlled.” This was later deleted.

What Erdogan wants to say through “shut down” or “controlled,” and what his thoughts say, is that: ‘If these websites praise me and talk about my accomplishments, I will leave them alone, as in the case of the channels loyal to me. But if they criticize me for my unfair decisions, I will have to control them.”

Q: Was Fahrettin Altun’s statement made to tone down and soften the statement President Erdogan made?

A: Yes, the purpose was to soften Erdogan’s statements, which are unacceptable to democracies. Altun tried to fix this as much as possible, and we all know that he is not authorized in these matters. The one who is authorized is the ruling authoritarian regime (in Turkey), represented by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. What he says prevails. What Fahrettin says has no value.

In fact, Altun’s statements stemmed from his fear of reactions (to Erdogan’s statement), not only domestically but from many democratic countries too. The truth is that the bottom line, in this case, is why do you fear the media?

Regarding moral and professional values, yes, the media should have moral values, but should the media be able to easily write anything? Yes, if it conforms to moral principles and values. Otherwise, no one will accept it—neither us nor the media professionals. The media has a universal code of ethics. Everyone should be able to publish within these ethical codes.

Q: If an amendment were made to laws regulating the use of social media, what are these laws’ boundaries? We encounter libelous statements and trolls against the CHP and (Erdogan’s governing) Justice and Development Party (AKP). What kind of an arrangement could prevent these?

A: First of all, we are against trolls. But it is AKP who brought trolls to Turkey’s agenda. Mr Mahir (Unal) started the “green dot” social-media campaign, allowing us to see all the trolling within AKP, and it was as if they revealed their secret in this regard.

Those who have paved the way for trolling and then began to complain of them should hold themselves accountable for their action and admit their mistake — there should be a code of ethics.

There are also double standards here. If defamatory posts target the authorities, the most severe punishments are inflicted. The homes of those who write these things get raided at night, and they get detained and thrown into prison.

After a period of up to three or six months, they get released by the court. But if the defamatory posts target the opposition, the writers face no detention. We file a complaint, and the case gets lost in the corridors of the judiciary.

Q: Your tweets following these statements, as well as a tweet by Good Party leader Meral Aksener referring to a Netflix series, have drawn reactions on social media. Do you watch Netflix?

A: No, I do not watch Netflix, but this is how I learned that Mrs. Meral watches Netflix. It is a good platform, and it is said that it is a quality website, but I do not find an opportunity to watch it.

Q: Why do you think it is dangerous to shut down such a platform besides social media?

A: Why would you close down a platform that the whole world is watching? Because you are afraid. You are afraid because of a mistake you made. In this case, you only have to rectify your mistakes, but you do not rectify them.

You insist on making those mistakes and being oppressive, and if you are criticized, you deliberately shut down the platform through which you were criticized. This is an anti-democratic practice.

Look how beautifully our constitution’s first article about the media reads: “The press is free and shall not be censored.” Period. Freedom of the press is a fact endorsed by the entire world, and also by our constitution. However, it is disrupted as we watch journalists being arrested, jailed and detained.

Q: The CHP is preparing to hold its general conference at Bilkent stadium on July 25-26. Watching from outside, there seems to be uneasiness within the party, such as (former CHP deputy Shahin) Mengu moving the courts. There are also those complaining about a small conference room and low numbers of voters. Members of the CHP central executive board say that they want to respond to these statements against the party’s leadership, but the leader of the party prevents that. Why don’t you give them permission to respond? 

A: Some want to find ground for a pointless discussion within the party. There is some unfair criticism, but of course, they can criticize since we are a political party that is open to any kind of criticism after all, and we are obliged to do that, since some of these criticisms can indeed show our shortcomings, but some criticisms are unjust and unfair.

With regard to the general conference, we had planned to hold it earlier, but it was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, a new period has now begun. We asked the Ministry of Health about how to hold the conference, and they told us about the possibility of organizing it in an open area.

We could either hold it in the playground or at the Bilkent stadium. But a decision was taken against holding it in the playground due to the games and the difficulty of controlling the playground.

We were only left with Bilkent stadium which can accommodate the party’s delegates. However, the following problem may arise for the member of the party who would like to be a candidate for the party council — he needs the signature of 10 delegates.

We facilitated that and any member who would like to become a member of the council has to gather the signatures and submit his candidacy, taking into consideration social distancing and health rules.

As for the audience, we will hold the conference without any audience due to health risks in the current circumstances. We have set appropriate conditions for the media, provided they keep social distancing.

For the members of our honorary board, there will be a special place built outside the stadium, where TV screens will be installed and tents will be set up accordingly.

Q: Did Mr. Mengu talk to you before going to court? 

A: No, he did not. His claim was dismissed anyway.

Q: There is considerable interest in the speech you will give at the general conference. An article recently published in the Cumhuriyet newspaper was viewed as the party’s manifesto. What are the issues you intend to emphasize? 

A: We established our republic about a hundred years ago, and there was the excitement of establishing this republic. The main goal of this republic was democratization, based especially on the principle of populism.

We started a multi-party system in 1946, and in that period, there were coups, and prices were paid. After the coup attempt of July 15, 2016, a state of emergency was declared on July 20.

A de-facto civilian coup is happening in Turkey at the moment. We know this. There is pressure on the media, pressure on the judiciary, and pressure on parliament. In other words, institutions of the state that should have been independent are being held in custody in a sense.

Therefore, we have to talk about a task like crowning our republic with democracy and enter this century this way. A Republic of Turkey that has its republic crowned by democracy — this is our goal.

To achieve this goal, we want to start a process that sides with democracy, human rights, judicial independence, democratic parliamentary regime, free media and equality between women and men.

This is the main goal of our congress. How will we do this? We will do it by coming to power and we will become the government. One hundred percent I believe in this.

Q: This is in regard to democratic practices within the CHP. While you are emphasizing democracy, a broadcast of (CHP candidate in the 2018 presidential election) Muharrem Ince caught my attention: “I cannot flatter anyone. I have fought for democracy against the CHP, before my struggle against the AKP”. How do you interpret Mr. İnce’s remark?

A: I don’t know. I don’t know about this. What were the barriers? I would like to know.  We didn’t talk about this issue, but if you search for democratic standards at a party in this country, number one is the Republican People’s Party.

For example, we made elections about the fellows who will be working in the parliament. Everybody went into elections. There were winners and losers. I said that I would be completely neutral.

What could be better than this? This is democracy. Besides, previously a candidate had to receive, I think, at least 20 percent of the votes in order to become the leader of the party, and then had to come over to sign it in front of the council. I decreased that to 5 per cent.

Mr. Muharrem asked me to lower that number. I said fine, we can make it 5 percent. I exerted all my efforts for democracy. If we have deficiencies in democratic standards, these can be told to us with quite good intentions.

We’ll fix it right away. Nobody should have the slightest worry about my understanding of democracy. Democracy is part of my life, it is part of my soul, part of my thought. This is how I see it.

Q: There is talk of the Nation Alliance expanding to include the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) and the Future Party, if they want. There are rumors about inclusion those who could work in harmony with Ali Babacan, founder and leader of DEVA. Is that a sign that the Nation Alliance will be expanded?

A: As a matter of fact, it is very valuable for us that each member of our party is elected to the party assembly and that they serve in the party assembly.

It is up to the respected delegates of the congress to decide the matter. They were also chosen based on democratic standards. I didn’t call any delegate and tell them to vote in this or that direction. I would never say that.

They vote based on their own free will and choose their candidate accordingly. Therefore, being Mr. Babacan or someone else, we are not choosing candidates to support anyone. This is a fact. We are entering into a new period.

We had an alliance in the last elections the basis of which was democracy, human rights, freedom of thought and freedom of press — more or less, all the components of democratic standards. We want to realize all these (goals) in Turkey.

Consequently, an alliance has emerged naturally. We called it the Nation Alliance. Will this alliance grow or expand? It is of course our desire for it to expand.

Q: Would you like to see Ali Babacan and Ahmet Davutoglu under the roof of the Nation Alliance? 

A: These two valuable leaders will make the decisions on that matter. Naturally I have been watching their statements on television and in the media with great interest.

They are in favor of a strengthened democratic parliamentary system. And they are in favor of freedom of expression. They are in favor of freedom of press. They are also in favor of judicial independence.

Similarly, they are also in favor of the state or the government governing the state should be accountable to people and be transparent and lucid. These principles are the basic principles of the Nation Alliance that we have created in the past.

If we can come together within the framework of these principles, it would be a gain for Turkey. It would be a gain for the future of Turkey.

As I have just said, if we could crown our republic with a real democracy in its centennial, this heritage will reveal a very beautiful legacy to leave for their children for all who have contributed with a stone or a brick.

Q: Do you believe HDP voters will continue to support the CHP in the upcoming elections as they did in the previous ones? Because there are opinions and allegations regarding a decline in their support.

A: Actually, I don’t know. We are certainly paying great attention to the HDP. Just like we follow the statements of other political parties, it is our duty to follow the statements that the (HDP) co-chairpersons make to the public from time to time.

They also emphasize democracy and justice. The HDP already has its own voters. When you look at it, they vote for their own party. In this process, we do not know whether they would support CHP. But as far as I know, each party’s voters will vote for their own party.

But if HDP does not put up a candidate in a place where only one, two or three candidates show up, we would be pleased to have HDP supporters come and vote for the CHP.

Q: What is your reaction to the calls to ban HDP? Again, there is chatter behind the scenes about the HDP being shut down. Have you heard anything about this?

A: They express this from time to time. The HDP can be shut down with the indictment to be prepared by the Supreme Court of Appeals Prosecutor’s Office and the ruling upheld by the Constitutional Court. Such claims are voiced by politicians or by those who are somewhat distant from, or completely opposed to, the HDP. But for now, HDP has a group in the assembly and has a parliamentary deputy speaker.

The HDP’s parliamentary deputy speaker is discharing his duties well in parliament. The AKP is there, MHP is there, the Good Party is there, Republican People’s Party, the independents, Workers Party and Saadet Party representatives are there. He lets them speak and observes the requirements of the charter.

There is a difference between the reality in the parliament and the reality conveyed to the citizens. The one that is conveyed to the citizen is an artificial truth.

It is totally polarizing, aimed at consolidating its own base by dividing society, people and parties, making them look like enemies to each other or making them regard each other as enemies.

In parliament, for example, HDP’s parliamentary deputy speaker manages the parliament. When an AKP member asks to speak, the deputy speaker grants the request in accordance with the bylaw.

So, if there is a practice in contrast with the bylaw, he implements the practices required by the charter. Everybody follows it. Therefore, in the reality of the parliament, there is a common will to comply with all rules set by the bylaws, even if there is no harmony between parties.

We should project this common will to society too. We need an understanding that has its own thoughts, voices these thoughts about the future of Turkey easily, expressing what the understanding will do for the future of Turkey with its programs. Political parties that don’t do this or are unable to do so want to keep their bases polarized.

Q: We used to see Kemal Kilicdaroglu travel abroad for meetings regarding foreign policy.  Of course, that is not really possible during the pandemic, but neither did we see Kilicdaroglu holding meetings before the pandemic. Is there a reason for this? Have your priorities changed?

A: No, the agenda in Turkey was quite busy. Also, there were these consecutive elections and it is necessary to prepare for these elections. Preparing an election bulletin is not an easy job. It is a long process.

You have to meet with many respected people from different fields, sit down and discuss the draft you have prepared, and prepare the election bulletin together. Plus, while preparing this bulletin, you also have to prepare for the elections in collaboration with the party organizations.

Therefore, we didn’t have the chance to go abroad, but we have representative offices in Brussels and Washington. On behalf of us — these are official agencies — they meet with all the political parties. Our thoughts are conveyed to them.

They can have criticisms about us, they can have suggestions, they can have expectations. These are transferred to us. Plus, in today’s technological environment, these meetings can take place in more than one way.

Q: President Erdogan recently held another tripartite meeting regarding Syria with Russia’s President Putin and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani. How has the Turkish anti-Russian stance in Libya affected the course of Turkish-Russian cooperation on Syrian issues. 

I am not justifying Turkey’s clash with the Russian military or any other force, neither in Libya nor in Syria. In my opinion, rationality should prevail in foreign relations. Countries may have their own interests. Turkey, Russia, Iran and the United States of America have interests in Libya and Syria, while we have kinship, historical and cultural relations in the Middle East.

Q: Let’s discuss your position on the consequences of Turkish anti-Russian measures taken in Libya for its cooperation with Russia in Syria. 

A: Are there any negative effects of the Turkish measures taken in Libya and against Russia on the future of their cooperation in Syria? I don’t know, but negotiations are still in progress.

I expect that common sense will prevail in both Russia and Turkey, because conflict is not in the best interest of either of them, therefore they can reach a consensus, and there is a great importance attached to this consensus in Libya as well. The tribal conflict there harms Libyan interests. It is imperative for Libya to exercise its free will in this matter.

Q: In conclusion, I would like to discuss two issues. The first is the controversy over the planned conversion of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul from a museum into a mosque. There is a decision of the Council of State on the agenda. On the other hand are statements made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian President Vladimir Putin. What are the benefits desired from converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque? What could be the consequences of not doing so?

A: Well, Hagia Sophia is already a place of worship and has an official imam. So, it actually is not completely closed for worship. It is characterized as a world cultural landmark, and this should be recognized. It is internationalized in domestic politics from time to time. We do not wish to exploit religious features in internal politics.

If the authority deems opening Hagia Sophia to worship, it should be very easy. All Erdogan has to do is issue a decree converting it to a mosque, and by that, its description as a museum will be removed.

I find no logic in amplifying the matter and escalating it to the international stage. If he is doing this to gain votes at the expense of the CHP, then he should not be thinking that way. Let him issue a decree to convert it into a mosque and announce it in the official newspaper.

Q: The second topic of the last question concerns the controversy surrounding the Turkish Bars Association, notably the reactions of its heads regarding its president, Metin Feyzoglu. Have you met with Feyzoglu to discuss this issue? 

A: No, I haven’t. However, there is great significance for the future of Turkey in the reactions of the heads of bar associations to the tendencies to divide them. Today, they seek to drive polarization, creation of divisions and conflict towards the bar associations. In this case we stand with the bars associations, and I will do everything in my power to thwart the campaign.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, for this interview. Is there anything that you would like to add?

A: Pressures should never drive a society into despair. The victory that we achieved in the local elections will continue in the upcoming elections. We will crown our beautiful republic and our country with democracy. Everyone will live peacefully in this country.

Everyone will express their thoughts freely in this country. No investigation will be opened against anyone for expressing thoughts freely. We will completely release parliament and the judiciary from custody.

The judiciary will take decisions independently, according to the universal principles of law. The people, not the leaders of the political parties, will elect the parliamentarians.



Source: Arab News


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