One of the first topics we discussed was the debate on the tenure of the president. Emphasizing that there is nothing he can do regarding his term of office, Gül said he was focusing on his business. He also stressed that as the president, he was not pleased with the public nature of the debate or with the tone in which the debate was sometimes taking place. He recalled that the issue was not a personal matter, but one that concerned Turkey as a whole and said that is why he prefers to not talk about it. He also noted that obsessing over such matters would take up too much time and inhibit work from getting done.
President Gül supports debating all forms of governance, including the presidential system, but he wants these debates to be performed with a sense of purpose. Underscoring that debates carried out consciously will benefit the public, he indicated that the presidential system was not on Turkey’s agenda.
As for objections that the presidential system will lead the way to the hegemony of a single-party, he stressed the importance of the “checks and balance” system in democracies. Furthermore, he believes people should not be disturbed if the same party gets re-elected.
Does the president appoint people who share his worldview to critical positions?
President Gül responded to this question by giving the US as an example. Emphasizing that a similar debate erupted in the US after President Barack Obama made his appointment to the Supreme Court, Gül said: “The debate there was this: Of course a Democrat president should appoint someone who has a worldview similar to his. The same goes for a Republican president. That is not the issue. What’s important is whether there will be partisanship. Personally, this is what I would like those people who are appointed to these positions to understand.”
Noting that the new constitutional amendments have authorized him to appoint four members to the Supreme Election Board (YSK) and that he has already started considering his choices, Gül also brought up a point that many people are not aware of: “I could have appointed a member to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) a month before the amendments were made. But I did not use my right and I left it to the Supreme Court of Appeals,” he said.
Noting that when he makes an appointment he looks at whether the person meets the necessary criteria and does not consider their affiliations or commitment to a political party, Gül, alluding to his predecessor Ahmet Necdet Sezer, said: “Aside from that, I don’t investigate anyone’s daughter. I would never do that.”
In reference to his recent appointment of an alternate member to the Constitutional Court, which sparked criticism, he stated, “I made the appointment to fill the court’s lack of an economic expert.”
The discussion moved on to the perpetual lawsuits against journalists and then touched upon Ergenekon.
Noting that he was closely following the lawsuits against journalists, Gül especially noted that while everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, convictions of people such as writers, journalists and scientists would have a more drastic impact, and said, “These types of things will quickly ruin our image.” He explained that it’s wrong to detain them for a long period of time and criticized the system of Specially Authorized Courts in Turkey, wherein some courts focus only on cases involving crimes against the security of the state and organized crime.
“This change was made during my term. When State Security Courts were abolished and Specially Authorized Courts were being established, my legal advisors had told me that these courts had been given too much authority. But some institutions insisted that ‘these authorities were critical.’ Special courts only changed the personnel of the State Security Courts. The uniforms were taken off, that’s it. We need to look at all of these factors. The concerns of my advisers were correct. What can judges and prosecutors do today? They are examining the current laws,” he said.
Explaining that he could not follow the attack at Tophane closely because of his busy schedule at the UN, he said these types of incidents don’t suit the new Turkey and said they were incidents that should be left in the old Turkey.
At Columbia University, the president explained that he said the “era of media tycoons was over” in order to refute claims that a single group was managing everything in Turkey and noted that he was closely following the tax fines imposed on the Doğan Media Group.
In short, President Gül said Turkey should not slack off because of its current period of stability and asked for more reforms and continued efforts to provide a better Turkey for future generations.