Parliament’s vote confirming Mehmet NihatÖmeroğlu as the first ever Public Ombudsman of Turkey is a slap in the face of democratization, if not a first-rate scandal.
It is a step that along with its symbolism ends the spirit of the era of “normalization,” launched by the 58 percent “yes” vote in the referendum on Sept. 12, 2010. The echo of the decision is bound to have bitter effects among those in the EU who support Turkey’s bid for membership.
The news had reached me before the late-night vote that confirmed Ömeroğlu’s nomination on Tuesday. A colleague was contacted by a Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy belonging to the tiny, liberal flank of the party, telling him that there was nothing to be done -- she would quit the Grand Assembly in despair.
The reactions of my colleagues and I have to do with Ömeroğlu’s background as judge of the Court of Cessation. He was among those who approved of the sentencing of Hrant Dink, agreeing that the author had, pertinent to the notorious Article 301 of the Penal Code, indeed “denigrated Turkishness.” It was a verdict that bounced back from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) after our courageous colleague had already been assassinated.
The process that brought forward three candidates for the ombudsmen position, among them Ömeroğlu, was alarming enough. The shortlist initially had a fourth name, DurmuşYılmaz, an ex-Central Bank governor who stood out for his integrity, qualifications and merits. But, at the final stage, his name was eliminated.
Yılmaz is an advisor to President Abdullah Gül.
The joint commission that vetted the candidates, whose membership consists of up to 70 percent deputies of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), pushed forth Ömeroğlu as their candidate. The few reports on the issue pointed out that Prime Minister Erdoğan had acted as a “marriage witness” to Ömeroğlu’s son’s wedding, reminding of Ömeroğlu’s role as one of the judges who approved the scandalous verdict penalizing Dink.
The late Hrant Dink’s brother, Orhan Dink, commented yesterday in daily Taraf bitterly on the Ömeroğlu’s confirmation: “We all know that this verdict was a death sentence. Behind the decision were judges at all levels. Not only did they make it difficult for Turkey, they also took my brother away from me.”
Orhan Dink also emphasized the fact that that both the ECtHR and State Inspection Council had called for correctional measures, but to no avail.
“On the contrary, we now have to live with this promotion. It is where we are at, sadly,” remarked Dink.
On the night of the parliamentary vote on Tuesday, AKP deputies received a last minute plea from SezginTanrıkulu, a CHP deputy who also served as a defense lawyer for the late Dink’s family.
“There are serious doubts about this candidate,” Tanrıkulu told AKP deputies at the assembly hall. “The process that led to the killing of Dink started with a trial and a sentence against him. This is enough to overshadow this nomination. That a person who contributed to an event causing so much public trauma is confirmed as an ombudsman in Turkey is truly remarkable,” the CHP deputy said.
These words had no affect whatsoever on the decision. Ömeroğlu even received some support from the MHP, receiving in the end a total of 258 votes (of 550).
He was defiant when he met the press, showing no sign of regret. It is wrong to link the verdict to Dink’s death, he said, and advised everyone to “look forward.”
Has this (mis)step delivered a blow to democratization? A proper establishment of an ombudsman post was among the primary expectations of the EU. It was such a serious move for accountability (a strange word for Turkish administrations) that it was blocked by the former president, AhmetNecdetSezer, and the old establishment for years.
Now, with such a sloppy, vertically-led appointment process, how the EU will react is a new question. How Turkey’s citizenry will live with a baby dead at birth is another one.
The worst has to do with the sense of independent justice, which is the highest priority of the Turkish public, as indicated by the referendum in 2010. But the bitter fact is that this act of parliament, whose symbolism confirms that corporatism is in full force, ends an “era of hope” for transparency and accountability.
The first ombudsman is a product of the Ankara Criteria, not the ones that were once created in Copenhagen.