Tension rises between the president and the government

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at xxxxxxxxxxx.xxx
Sat Aug 19 11:55:41 MDT 2000

Turkey update


15 August 2000

Tension rises between the president and the government

Less than three months into his seven-year presidential tenure,
President Ahmet Necdet Sezer is already sharply at odds with the
government and the "powers that be". The former Chief Justice of the
Constitutional court, who is an outspoken defender of the supremay of
law, may be too much of a democrat for those who rule Turkey. As tension
grows between the presidency and the coalition led by Bülent Ecevit, the
media are already spreading rumors of Sezer's possible resignation or
even impeachment.

The dispute centers on a decree with the force of law issued by the
ruling coalition in the absence of the parliament to make it easier for
state institutions to dismiss civil servants suspected of Islamist
sympathies. This measure has been on various governments' "to do" list
for several years. Its roots go back as far as the "post modern coup" of
February 28, 1997,  when the army dictated a list of 18 anti-Islamist
measures to former Prime minister Necmettin Erbakan during a historic
National Security Council meeting. Failure to take action eventually
cost Erbakan his position: the Islamist politician resigned on June 18,

Other governments have since tried to push these policies through
parliament. But conservative deputies have opposed the adoption of a law
that gives state investigators such broad powers, fearing that it would
lead to purges among civil servants. The concept of "fundamentalism" is
vague and open to interpretation. In the eyes of most people, it refers
to dangerous radicals, but others perceive pious Moslems who attend the
mosque regularly or wear headscarves as a threat.

The generals, however, still appear determined to rid public service of
suspicious elements. Prime minister Bülent Ecevit produced detailed
figures to back the claim that hundreds of dangerous people were drawing
salaries from the state.

Ahmet Necdet Sezer, whose secular credentials have never been in doubt -
he is, after all, the man who presided over the closure of the
pro-Islamic Welfare Party - nevertheless refused to sign the decree. He
did not oppose the contents of the document so much as its form. In a
letter sent to the government to justify his decision, the head of state
reminded the three coalition partners that in a parliamentary democracy,
"the 'rule of law' principle requires the arrangement envisaged by the
draft decree to be introduced with a law rather  than a decree." Sezer
further justified his position by stating that the rule of law was "one
of the tenets of the Turkish Republic, a tenet which he had taken an
oath to protect and preserve."

The Turkish state, like the Ottoman empire it succeeded, has always been
very protective of its civil servants. As part of the democratization
process, the parliament has made light changes to a law that made it
virtually impossible to prosecute state employees, but prosecution of
policemen accused of torturing suspects, for instance, remains a rare
occurrence. With this decree, the government seek precisely the
opposite: the swift dismissal of people whose ideas do not fit with the
official ideology, which suggests an "a la carte" concept of democracy
and the rule of law.

Many Turks support Sezer's courageous and principled stand. But the
president is nevertheless on a collision course with the state
institutions and the media which back them. The mainstream press, which
until recently was praising Sezer for his modest lifestyle and
integrity, appears to have largely turned against him, suggesting he is
causing instability in the circles of power. The debate is focusing on
the technical and legal aspects of the row between the president and the
government, rather than the real issues behind it. Jurists disagree on
the extent of the head of state's power. Some believe it is his
privilege not to sign the decree, other say his only recourse is to sign
and then apply to the Constitutional Court to have the decree rejected.

The three coalition leaders, after a summit meeting, decided to tough it
out. The draft was sent again, unchanged, to the presidential palace.
"The president must sign the decree and contribute to its entering into
force," said Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Action Party.
"Everyone should avoid any action that may plunge Turkey into a crisis."

Mesut Yilmaz, who is deputy prime minister in charge of the EU accession
process, acknowledged in a newspaper interview that on "certain known
issues", such as the fight against political Islam, the army was
directly involved in politics.

 When Ecevit nominated Ahmet Necdet Sezer as a presidential candidate,
he probably felt the judge's democratic views would be good for Turkey's
image. With no political experience and few contacts, Sezer was
perceived as relatively harmless and unable to interfere with the smooth
running of the "system". But the new president, who carries the hopes of
liberal Turks, has already proved his strength and determination
recently in the choice of rectors for Turkey's universities, when he
forced the High Education Board to redraft its list of candidates. The
Board, which was originally set up after the 1980 coup to purge
universities  of leftist elements, had bypassed candidates elected by
their faculty members in favour of others deemed to be more suitable by
the state, but who had only received one vote.

The coalition partners and the country as a whole are now eagerly
awaiting the president's next step. Büent Ecevit, in a statement that
sounded almost like a threat, said he did not want to imagine what would
happen if Sezer turned down the government's request once more. Talks of
Sezer's resignation are probably wishful thinking on the part of people
whose position in power is threatened by the democratization process and
integration with Europe.

The fact that public support for the president seems to be growing
underlines once more the growing gap between the ruling class and the
Turkish population.

15 August 2000


Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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