New protocol list falls short of democratic aspirations of new Turkey

New protocol list falls short of democratic aspirations of new Turkey

PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu stand in line during the Republic Day celebration on Oct. 29, 2011.

May 20, 2012, Sunday/ 12:38:00

The state protocol list, which was recently modified in a bid, presumably, to reinforce the precedence of civilian authority over appointed bureaucrats, does not live up to the expectations of most opinion leaders in Turkey.

The official ranking lists the ceremonial order for local and foreign government officials and military and state leaders at diplomatic, ceremonial and social events, both in Turkey and abroad.

With the chief of General Staff remaining in third place on the list, the modification has been subjected to much criticism. For Akın Özçer, a former diplomat and a columnist with the Taraf daily, the list doesn’t really look to be a novel one. “It’s surprising that the chief of General Staff is in third place, which actually means we are still a military state,” he commented to Sunday’s Zaman.

As per the new protocol list, which came to public attention in a news piece which appeared in the Sabah daily, the chief of General Staff keeps his place in the state hierarchy, preceded only by the parliament speaker and the prime minister, in that order, and coming right before the chairman of the main opposition party, who is entitled to the fourth place on the list. Although the top brass other than the chief of the armed forces were moved down the list in the state hierarchy, the members of the Cabinet -- including the defense minister, with whom, one would expect in a democratic system, the chief of General Staff would be affiliated -- rank 11th on the list.

While the new list includes considerable improvements -- with deputy prime ministers being listed in seventh place, and prime ministerial undersecretaries, who were listed in 35th place in the previous order of precedence, having moved up to 18th place -- in favor of civilian authority, the revisions still came as quite a bit of a surprise to most, because members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government have always made it clear in their speeches that they were determined to carry the democratization process further, putting great emphasis on the will of the nation in governing the country. So, most expected, should there be a modification in the state protocol list, the leader of the main opposition party and heads of senior courts would be placed ahead of the chief of General Staff.

Sezgin Tanrıkulu, deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), harshly criticized the new list, saying, “If on a state protocol list the chief of General Staff happens to come before the leader of the main opposition party, then it becomes meaningless to talk about civilian authority taking precedence over the military.”

Claiming that the changes the AK Party government has brought about are a sham, he declared in a written statement issued on Tuesday that “if a state protocol of civilian nature is to be written out, then there should be no question about appointed bureaucrats coming before elected politicians.”

Özçer, who maintains that the new ranking is not suitable for a democratic system, agrees with Tanrıkulu that elected politicians should be placed before appointed bureaucrats in the state hierarchy. According to Özçer, the chief of General Staff should be considered on the same level with a ministerial undersecretary. But referring to the preparation process of a new constitution, to which all the parties in Parliament are contributing, he makes it clear he is still hopeful about the democratization process Turkey has been undergoing for some time. “With the elimination of the military tutelage in the new constitution, I believe, the protocol list will need to be modified once again,” he commented.

Democratization and military tutelage has long been a major theme of heated discussion in Turkey, which has suffered several military coups in the last 60 years. Although the AK Party government has taken some steps towards democratization, not much has been achieved in the way of institutional changes destined to bring the status of the military bureaucracy in line with the state bureaucracy.

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) enjoy a privileged status, above and beyond those seen in modern democracies. The chief of General Staff reports directly to the prime minister and comes ahead of the defense minister in the state protocol, a practice one does not encounter in any other NATO country. In the US, for example, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is 49th in the state protocol order, well behind US ambassadors, Congress members, members of the cabinet, state governors and even retired secretaries of state. In France, the chief of the Defense Staff is ranked 17th, while in Spain he is positioned 33rd, 25th in Italy and seventh in Israel.

This is a time period in which democratization is the word of the day. And Doğu Ergil, a professor of political science at Fatih University, has drawn attention to a failing of Turkey’s whole process of democratization. Noting that one of the major properties of a democratic system nowadays is the accountability, and the participation of the people in the decision-making processes, he told Sunday’s Zaman: “Has this modification been discussed in Parliament? Those holding power also need to explain to the public why they have felt the need to bring about this change and the logic behind it.”

Another glaring modification in the list is the place bestowed to the president of the Religious Affairs Directorate, who has moved up in the hierarchy from the 51st place to the 10th, overtaking force commanders and ministers. But Özçer finds it wrong for the president of the Religious Affairs Directorate to be placed so high in the state hierarchy, noting that he is just a bureaucrat, and needs to be placed after the elected representatives of the people.

The order of precedence in the state hierarchy, which the Foreign Ministry has fine-tuned after working on various models in countries around the world, is expected to be approved by President Abdullah Gül and take effect before the May 19 Atatürk Commemoration and Youth and Sports Day celebrations.

Top 10 on the list

The list does not include the president of Turkey as he or she is the head of state and is therefore naturally assumed to be at the top of the list.

1. Parliament speaker

2. Prime minister

3. Chief of General Staff

4. Main opposition party leader

5. Former presidents

6. Constitutional Court president

7. Deputy prime ministers

8. Supreme Court of Appeals president

9. Council of State president

10. Religious Affairs Directorate president

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