Muhammed Bilal Macit (26) and Oktay Ekşi (79), the youngest and oldest candidates running for Parliament in the upcoming June 12 general elections, differ from each other in their opinions about developments in Turkey, according to interviews they gave to Sunday’s Zaman.
Macit is a candidate from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and Oktay is a candidate from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). Sunday’s Zaman posed the same questions to both candidates, and found they gave very different responses to most questions. The two candidates disagreed especially about nominations for deputy positions of a number of suspects in a case against Ergenekon.
The CHP recently nominated figures for Parliament such as journalist Mustafa Balbay, Professor Mehmet Haberal, industrialist Sinan Aygün and former Chief Public Prosecutor İlhan Cihaner, who are all suspects in the ongoing Ergenekon case. Balbay and Haberal are currently in jail at Silivri Prison, but Aygün and Cihaner are not currently under arrest. Ergenekon is a clandestine criminal network with alleged links within the state that is suspected of plotting to topple the government.
Ekşi said he cannot understand people’s reactions to the nominations of the Ergenekon suspects. “If the presumption of innocence -- one of the fundamental principles of law -- is valid and respected in Turkey, then what difference would it make whether a suspect is accused of Ergenekon membership or something else, for example, rape? If there is the presumption of innocence, then you should respect people’s right to run for elections. What is important is not to discriminate against people as suspects in the Ergenekon [case] or in another case. What is important is to know if these people are worth being nominated as candidates for deputy positions or not,” he stated. Ekşi also noted that there have been examples in Turkey of people who were convicted of crimes, even murder, in the past who were later elected to Parliament. “There are many such examples and no one says anything about them. But why are they opposed to the nomination of suspects in the Ergenekon case?” he asked.
Ekşi was the former chief columnist at the Hürriyet daily. He was forced to resign last year after he insulted the prime minister and state ministers in one of his columns. He later joined the CHP and was eventually nominated as a deputy candidate.
Macit, on the other hand, gave a sarcastic response to a question about the nomination of the Ergenekon suspects. “I think the CHP disappointed other [Ergenekon] suspects by not nominating them. Indeed the nomination of only a few suspects in the case clearly shows the support the CHP is lending to the appropriateness of the Ergenekon case. For this reason, I see it as a small step for humanity and a big one for the CHP,” he said.
Asked whether a new Parliament to be formed after the June elections will be able to draft a new constitution, Ekşi gave an ambiguous response. He said it would be wrong to speak about the structure of a future Parliament before the elections. “We need to see June 13 to give an answer. June 13 will be the best answer,” he said. According to Macit, however, the new constitution will be written by the nation, not the Parliament. “Parliament is required to create an atmosphere to discuss a new constitution. It should work to give a voice to the nation’s demands for a new constitution. Then the new constitution should be put to a referendum. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan already said a referendum to pass a new constitution will be held even if his AK Party has the majority of deputies in Parliament.”
The existing Constitution, which was drafted under martial law after the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’état, is frequently criticized on the grounds that it fails to respond to today’s needs for broader rights and freedoms for individuals. The AK Party has pledged to prepare a new constitution after the June 12 elections.
While Macit believes that Parliament can prepare a new constitution by the end of 2012, Ekşi said it could be prepared within one year of a new parliament being sworn in.
In response to a question about growing calls from some segments of society for the lowering of the 10 percent election threshold, the AK Party nominee said the threshold may be lowered with a new constitution and an amendment to the law on elections. “The level of democracy will be heightened. But the threshold should not be 1 percent. We are living in a country where people feel encouraged to set up political parties after merely appearing on TV shows,” Macit said. According to Ekşi, no one in Turkey other than Erdoğan wants the election threshold to remain at 10 percent. “The threshold should be lowered to a reasonable level as soon as possible,” he said.
The prime minister is strongly opposed changing the threshold. He believes a lowering of the threshold will not help improve Turkish democracy or the economy.
Opinions about Kurdish initiative
Sunday’s Zaman also questioned the two nominees about their opinion of the “Kurdish initiative,” a government-backed plan to bring about a conclusion to the long-standing Kurdish question through a massive democratization process. The plan is also referred to as a democratization initiative. The AK Party government announced its plan in 2009, but later had to shelve it for a variety of reasons.
According to Macit, he is a strong supporter of the Kurdish initiative. “I strongly support the initiative and that’s why I am a member of the AK Party. The AK Party did not put forward a clear package for the democratization initiative. And I think that was for the best. It did show that it will be decisive in reaching a settlement of the Kurdish question, but it asked for the dynamics of society to contribute to that settlement. And its efforts are yielding results,” he said.
Ekşi also expressed support for the Kurdish initiative, but criticized the AK Party for failing to take the necessary steps to enable the initiative to be successful. “For example, the interior minister said the government would ask the opinion of civil society groups and academic circles [about the initiative]. He said the government would analyze suggestions made by them and take a proposal [about a roadmap on the initiative] to Parliament. But they did not do this,” he complained.
On Turkey’s bid to become a full member to the European Union, both Macit and Ekşi agreed that Parliament should continue efforts to introduce reforms to that end. Turkey amended many laws and passed new ones as part of its bid on its journey to the EU. Observers believe that the bid has helped Turkey to renew its archaic legal system.