Political abuse of problems will have a heavy price, Gül warns

Instead of solving the country’s problems, using them as an instrument in politics »»
Instead of solving the country’s problems, using them as an instrument in politics would bring heavier costs to Turkey, warned President Abdullah Gül on Friday as he addressed Parliament on the occasion of the start of the new legislative year.

“Our problems grew so much because they were not solved in the past. Similarly, if we fail to solve them today, we will pass them to future generations and it will be even more difficult to solve them then. … We need to work to solve our problems responsibly and sincerity instead of turning a blind eye. We need to see that it is not beneficial for anyone to live with the problems,” the president noted.

Gül’s remarks were interpreted as new momentum in the settlement of Turkey’s chronic problems -- such as the Kurdish question, the controversial ban on the wearing of the Muslim headscarf on university campuses and the Cyprus issue. The president was targeting political parties, seeking public support, and ultimately political gains, over the deadlock stemming from the troubles. For him, seeking minor gains out of Turkey’s troubles will take the country to a point where a solution will no longer be available.

The president said the Kurdish question, which stems from low-level democratic standards, cannot be seen as separate from terror, but terror should not be considered the single reason leading to the rise of the question. “The Kurdish question has a security-related dimension as well as a dimension in democracy, socio-cultural structure and economics. There are broken hearts, disappointments and suspicions arising from flawed practices. What we should today is to develop a civilian will and confront our mistakes in the past and solve the question on democratic grounds rather than discussing whether such a question really exists or how it should be defined,” he stated.

He welcomed any civil group, association, political party or individual -- regardless of their identities -- to contribute to the settlement of the Kurdish matter. For the president, the solution lies more on democracy rather than an ethnicity-centered political discourse.

Turkey’s Kurdish issue has been present since the early years of the republic but turned violent in 1984 after the establishment of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). More than 40,000 civilians and security forces have been killed in clashes to date.

CHP leader attends parliamentary reception

Contrary to his party’s past decision to boycott parliamentary receptions, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu attended yesterday’s reception, held on the occasion of the start of the new legislative year.

The CHP leader told reporters ahead of the reception that the CHP is the founding party of the Turkish Republic, and thus he will attend the reception. “We represent the people of the nation. Therefore, we will attend this year’s parliamentary reception,” he said. The CHP has, for the past few years, boycotted parliamentary receptions in protest of President Abdullah Gül’s wife, who wears the Muslim headscarf. The party believes that the headscarf does not conform to the values of the republic, and refrains from attending any event hosted by the president and his wife.

Kılıçdaroğlu, however, denied the boycott, saying his party does not have an official decision to boycott parliamentary events. “Our friends previously attended such events. We do not have a decision not to attend them,” he said. The party’s former leader, Deniz Baykal, however, refused to attend yesterday’s reception. The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, did not attend the reception, either. İstanbul Today’s Zaman

One of the topics the president focused on during his parliamentary address was the “renewal of the political language,” which he deemed vital for the improvement of the quality of Turkish democracy up to global standards.

“The political language which fails to respond to problems, deadlocks and developments of our day needs to be replaced by a new, dynamic and tolerant one. I attach great importance to the adoption of a new political language. A political language can be constructive or destructive. … A new language that we will use in politics will facilitate the creation of an atmosphere for dialogue, which will eventually contribute to the settlement of Turkey’s important issues through a common understanding,” Gül said.

The remarks came as reaction to a frequent “battle of words” among politicians. The battle drew the ire of many ahead of the Sept. 12 referendum when Turkey voted a list of constitutional changes. Instead of providing details about the content of the constitutional amendment package, political party leaders used their rallies to direct accusations against one another.

Gül said the protection and improvement of democracy falls on every individual in society, but heavier responsibility falls on Parliament and state institutions.

Call for diversity in parliamentary representation

During his address, the president placed great emphasis on diversity in the representation of all political and ideological circles in the country. He said, albeit indirectly, that more political parties should be represented in Parliament. His remarks were a clear reference to growing objections to the 10 percent election threshold.

“Our nation does what falls on them to carry different political opinions to Parliament, and thus, to enrich parliamentary representation. … Diversity in parliamentary representation will reflect all the variety within us. A parliament in which all leading political opinions in the country are not represented will not be a real parliament at all,” he noted.

Recently there have been growing calls on the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government for the lowering of the election threshold to seven percent. In this way, most observers believe, more political parties will be represented in Parliament.

In the recent referendum, the president said the national will made itself known at the ballot box. For him, the high voter turnout is a strong indication that the nation used its “right to speak” on the constitutional amendment package. The voter turnout on the Sept. 12 public vote was over 78 percent, a figure higher than past referendums. The package obtained almost 58 percent of the national vote.

Gül welcomed any preference -- either a “yes” or “no” vote or a boycott at the ballot box -- by voters, saying they all signal diversity and richness in democracy. “But diversity should not considered a reason for ignoring the existence of some voters or accusing them of working for cultural division,” he warned.

Military breaks boycott, attends parliamentary ceremony

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), which has boycotted every opening ceremony of Parliament since the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) earned parliamentary representation in 2007, has broken with this tradition, attending yesterday’s ceremony for the start of the legislative year.

Former chief of the General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ boycotted parliament opening ceremonies in protest of the Kurdish deputies in Parliament. However, new army chief Gen. Işık Koşaner participated in the first-day events in Parliament.

The DTP was shut down by the Constitutional Court in 2009 on charges of separatist activities, but soon was replaced by the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) after its deputies joined the new party. The military is known to be a staunch opponent of Kurdish politicians in Parliament as they believe politicians of Kurdish origin actually work to undermine the unity of Turkey and establish an autonomous state in the eastern part of the country.

Also yesterday, the military was targeted in some remarks by President Abdullah Gül, who delivered a speech in Parliament. Albeit indirectly, the president expressed unease about the suspected coup plans prepared within the military and said any effort to damage the democratic structure of the Turkish state would be condemned by the nation. The president said all state institutions should fulfill their responsibility for the protection and improvement of democracy.

According to the president, the constitutional amendment package presents significance in terms of content, but is not enough. “The need for the preparation of a new constitution by a civilian will is evident today,” he said. He also said the existing Constitution, drafted under martial law after the 1980 coup d’état, fails to meet the Turkish nation’s needs. “Today’s Turkey needs a civilian, democratic and pluralist constitution. It will be up to Parliament to decide on the timing of the new constitution. But as a president, I need to stress Turkey’s need for a new document, which needs to meet the expectations of all segments of society and which will be passed through a common understanding. Within this context, I believe that the new legislative year will provide political parties and civil society groups with broad opportunities to discuss a new constitution,” he added.

Reaction against coup plans

The president also expressed outrage at coup plans, several of which emerged recently, saying any preparation or attempt targeting to suspend the will of the nation will face the resistance of the nation itself.

“We have recently witnessed a more conscious position by the nation against circles which ignore the [political] preferences of the public and resort to anti-democratic means instead. This is a significant development. Representatives of the nation in Parliament should be more careful about protecting the representation of the national will under the roof of Parliament, and stand against any attempt to suspend the will of the nation,” Gül stressed.



Columnist: TODAY'S ZAMAN