Ex-AK Party deputy Özdalga: Gov’t wants to make judiciary subordinate to executive power

Date posted: January 5, 2014

The largest corruption scandal in the history of Turkey has recently led to the resignation of three ministers and several deputies from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). This week’s guest for Monday Talk, who says that he is deeply concerned about where the country is heading, is one of those ex-deputies.

“The issue is not only about corruption, it is also about the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers, things at the heart of the democratic regime. There is no democracy without these,” says Haluk Özdalga, who was a member of the ruling party since 2007 until his recent resignation.

Özdalga, who warned against the rhetoric of government officials in regards to their claims that an unidentified international group have a plot to topple the ruling party, says that this is an absurd story.

“Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and politicians around him keep claiming that all this chaos is caused by an international plot, [with] the major culprits being the United States, Israel and the interest rate lobby. As the narrative goes, the Gülen movement is only a tool in this international plot! Quite a number of pro-government media, instantly following suit, have begun churning out incessant propaganda to prove this absurd story,” he said.

Following the corruption investigation that rocked the government at the end of 2013, the AK Party government has been criticized for interfering in the progress of the first phase of the investigation and for blocking a second one, which prosecutors wanted to launch and which also allegedly implicates Bilal Erdoğan, the son of Prime Minister Erdoğan.

Since the launch of the investigation, the government has replaced hundreds of high-level police officers in various cities, including those who were — under the instruction of prosecutors — conducting the investigation and allegedly revealed three ministers had been bribed by an Iranian businessman. The government has accused the prosecutors and police chiefs who launched and carried out the investigation of being part of a Western plot against the government.

Answering our questions, Özdalga elaborated on the issue.

You joined the AK Party in May 2007 after being involved in the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP), where you worked from the grassroots level up to several influential positions including deputy chairman of the DSP for about 25 years. You recently resigned from the AK Party after having been referred to the disciplinary committee. Would you tell us the background of this process? Why did you join the AK Party after your experience in social democratic parties? Why did you leave?

I’ve always been against military involvement in politics. However, the CHP was supporting military intervention in politics. As the 2007 presidential election approached, Mr. Deniz Baykal, then the leader of the CHP, adopted a provocative attitude by inviting the military to interfere in the election. When the April 27 military intervention took place, Baykal and his friends openly supported it. Strangely enough, there were few people who voiced opposition to this attitude in the CHP. I harshly criticized this attitude by saying enough was enough. I got an invitation from the AK Party to join them and accepted it.

However, there were other reasons that caused me to depart from the CHP. I believed that this party’s ultra-nationalist and anti-reformist attitude toward the Kurdish question was a serious mistake. Another issue was that I was against the headscarf ban. Social democrats should not only stand against the headscarf ban, but they should also take the leading stance against it. All of these were basic differences of opinion related to the country’s vital problems.

And your problems with the AK Party?

The AK Party did really a great service to this country in many respects. If I had the slightest contribution in all these, I would be proud of it. However, things began looking differently after the 2011 elections. The corruption scandal that came out on Dec. 17 involves a few ministers, their children, the general manager of a public bank, an Iranian businessman who allegedly laundered great sums of money, and claims of bribery [in the form] of millions of dollars. The prosecutor had serious allegations, and the ministers whose names were involved in the affair should have immediately resigned. Of course, we should assume that any accused person is innocent until the contrary is legally proven. These people should have the opportunity to defend themselves in a court and we should wait for the verdict.

‘Gov’t officials threaten prosecutor’

This is a corruption scandal of a grand size…

Yes, this is a corruption scandal of a grand size. But politically, the more critical issue was that the government ought to [have] demonstrated a clear attitude against these allegations — of course not only in words, but in deeds as well. However, the government didn’t exactly act that way. The interior minister, whose name was involved in the scandal, immediately started to depose the police officers who were doing the investigation. A regulation was immediately amended with the explicit aim of making it impossible for prosecutors to carry out independent investigations in secrecy. It was later called off by the Council of State but, in the meantime, a number of ongoing corruption investigations were disclosed. Despite a court decision, the İstanbul police — under control of the government — refused to comply with new orders of detention. In several speeches, government officials threatened the prosecutor of the corruption case. And a high-level judiciary organization like the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors [HSYK] was verbally attacked and intimidated. Mr. Erdoğan and the people close to him came up with several incredible remarks. About the CEO of the public bank — in the house of whom the police found 4.5 million euros in cash secreted in shoe boxes — they said, “He is a philanthropist.”

Well, these are not [things] that you can turn your head away from so easily. The issue is not only about corruption, it is also about the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers, things at the heart of the democratic regime. There is no democracy without these. I made a number of statements expressing my concerns. Following those statements, Prime Minister Erdoğan gave instructions for disciplinary action against me and two other deputies for dismissal. The day I got the information, I resigned.

Newly-installed Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ accused the HSYK of unconstitutional acts after taking office. Erdoğan himself announced that he would sue the judicial body after it declared that the government’s move to stifle the ongoing investigation by changing a regulation about law enforcers was not right. How do you explain what’s going on?

The HSYK has a legal right to make a decision as it did. Just enter the website of the HSYK and you will see many decisions like that. It did what it ought to do. It is very unfortunate that we have a minister of justice trying to suppress the independent judiciary and intimidate a vital, high-level judicial body like the HSYK, which as a matter of fact acted in conformity with the word and spirit of the law. It is clear to everyone supporting the independent judiciary who is against it and trying to obstruct it for political ends. The sun cannot be covered by mud, as the saying goes in Turkish.

‘Too much empty talk, no credible evidence by gov’t’

Turkey is finishing the year 2013 with this scandal. How credible is it to claim that the corruption probe against the government was opened by police and prosecutors close to the community of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen?

There has been too much empty talk. I want to see credible and concrete evidence for any such claim. If any public officer [doesn’t act] in accordance with the rules of his or her office, if [he is] disloyal to [the] democratic state but acts in accordance with a personal ideology or loyalty, it is simply unacceptable. At this point, I think one has to go further than our government does. It is not enough to reappoint them to another position, but they should be dismissed from public employment.

However, if public employees in huge numbers are constantly reshuffled with suspicion that they have Gülen affiliations or any other affiliation, without any substantiated evidence of wrong doing, I’d call it witch hunt.

We are now facing several grave situations, one after another. Erdoğan and politicians around him keep claiming that all this chaos is caused by an international plot, [with] the major culprits being the United States, Israel and the interest rate lobby. As the narrative goes, the Gülen movement is only a tool in this international plot! Quite a number of pro-government media, instantly following suit, have begun churning out incessant propaganda to prove this absurd story.

When in last May we had the Gezi park protests, Mr. Erdoğan and his people came up with similar explanations. At that time, I publicly warned against such meaningless talk, while assuming that it was only to manipulate the feelings of conservative people to get votes. However, it is now clear that Mr. Erdoğan and the group around him also believe in such an international plot.

Do you think Mr. Erdoğan and his team of advisers really believe that this is an international plot against the government?

Yes, they clearly do believe that. In August, Mr. Erdoğan declared that, in Syria, he was ready to go to war together with the US, in any sort of coalition chosen by the US. Only a month ago, in November, the foreign minister went to Washington and said that the US is our model partner for eternity. [Then], in December, the very same people accused America of plotting a conspiracy to topple our government. They really don’t see how seriously their credibility is being eroded.

Here, I’d like to take up US President [Barack] Obama’s remarks [when] addressing the UN General Assembly in last September: “… The situation in Syria mirrors a contradiction that has persisted in the region for decades: The United States is chastised for meddling in the region, accused of having a hand in all manner of conspiracy; at the same time, the United States is blamed for failing to do enough to solve the region’s problems and for showing indifference toward suffering Muslim populations.”

‘President Gül was called to intervene’

You had asked President Abdullah Gül to intervene in the current political situation, which you described as being a “state and democracy crisis.” Would you elaborate on this issue?

The new year for Turkey is full of uncertainties. The political path we are on is not sustainable from the democratic point of view, because if the judiciary is [made] subordinate to the executive power, there will be no more democracy. We all need an independent and bipartisan judiciary. Now, that is under threat. You can also call it a constitutional crisis. I am deeply worried. I trust in President Gül. I see him as a man of sound judgment. How he will act … is of utmost significance. You know, in recent days, more people [have] called on the president to intervene in this crisis.

Several of the ruling party’s deputies and ministers resigned. These resignations followed a Cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Erdoğan. This Cabinet has been called his “War Cabinet.” What are the characteristics of this Cabinet?

The term “War Cabinet” originated from Mr. Erdoğan’s statement that we are now having a second “Independence War.” I really don’t approve [of] such war terminology. It is the privilege of a prime minister to pick out his Cabinet. However, the main feature of the new Cabinet is that he picked those persons who are personally the closest people to him. This was actually what I was expecting. In a way, this reflects the situation Mr. Erdoğan believes he is in.

Is the AK Party still strong?

A strong political party is one where the leader is the first among equals, like the AK Party in its initial years. Now, everybody knows it is different.

‘Reforms for Kurds too little too late’

What do you expect for the year 2014 as far as domestic political developments are concerned in regard to the Kurdish issue?

We are all satisfied that there is now a cease-fire and no causalities after the introduction of the so=called resolution process. However the political issue is still there, unsettled, and keeps getting worse. The PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] is getting stronger both politically and militarily in the region. [PKK leader] Abdullah Öcalan now has much more support than he had before the resolution process began. The wider impression in the region is that the PKK and Öcalan are pressing the government for the rights of the Kurds, while adopted reforms are too little too late. The process proceeds in a stop and go mode. Nobody knows what kind of a political framework we will have in the end, because it is neither declared nor discussed publicly.

I have previously suggested several times that we must initiate an ambitious reform process, recognizing all democratic rights and freedoms without any bargaining. It should include all legal and linguistic rights as well as very strong local governments. Yes, such a reform process must be executed step by step, but without stopping and losing momentum and with a road map at hand so that everybody knows about where it will end.

As things look now, I am afraid the PKK may end up practically the only political power in the region. We may see a clear trend in that direction in the coming elections in March. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be true, but if it does, then we may have a tough ride [before] a fall. Remember that countries first break up politically, then territorially

‘Turkey almost totally isolated in Middle East’

Where does Turkey stand in the Middle East, especially considering the government’s Syria policies?

We are almost totally out and isolated in the Middle East. Let’s have a brief look at the Syrian tragedy. [First], without proper analysis, Turkey engaged itself in a policy of regime change by military means, an enterprise it has no previous experience with. Conditions for success didn’t exist either because there was no unified and credible opposition in Syria. There was no international consensus either. Second, we entered a coalition with the US and Saudi Arabia, where basic understandings were mismatched. Lacking a simple reading of the US, Turkey expected an American military intervention. However, President Obama was against it from the first day. Congress, the Pentagon and the American people were also all against it. What is more upsetting is that even if the US considered a military intervention in Syria, Turkey should have opposed it. The Saudis expected to deliver a big blow to Iran and then create fertile soil for the expansion of Wahhabism, even at the cost of the destruction of Syria. These can never be our purposes. I’d written at early stages that the outcome would likely be al-Qaeda and Salafi fighters taking the upper hand, when there was almost no mention of these groups in Syria.

What do you suggest about what Turkey can do at this point?

A radically revised Syria policy is needed. Turkey should, together with Iran, join the present US-Russian cooperation. These four countries ought to work together closely. The transfer of weapons and any foreign warriors into Syria must be stopped. The House of Saud must be convinced to give up sponsoring the Wahhabi militants. Only the US can do that. The al-Qaeda and Salafi militants, foreign to Syria, must be driven out, indeed a difficult task. After that, a new and non-unitary Syria can be established. In the disputed areas, internal borders may be drawn after local plebiscites.


Haluk Özdalga

A member of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) since 2007 until his recent resignation, Haluk Özdalga was previously active in the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Along with a group of social democrats, he joined the AK Party and was elected as an Ankara deputy in 2007 and 2011. He is the author of “Sosyal Demokrasinin Oluşumu” (The Formation of Social Democracy) and “Kötü Yönetilen Türkiye” (Turkey Misgoverned). He was the editor of several periodic publications and has written on political philosophy, foreign policy and political issues for various magazines and newspapers.

Source: Today's Zaman , January 5, 2014

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