Ümit Özdağ, who has been expelled from the MHP, has said, ‘Bahçeli, rather than defending the constitution that he has sworn to defend, is facilitating the introduction of an amendment that will fashion a constitution for a person who constantly breaches the constitution and will establish an authoritarian single-party regime and a single-man regime. History will not forgive him.’
Debate over the constitutional amendment is set to start in the general assembly of parliament. When it comes to the vote, all eyes will be on desertions with the ranks of the MHP. The amendment, that envisages a Turkish-style authoritarian regime, has made it to the general assembly thanks to the MHP and if it goes to a referendum, this will also have been made possible with the MHP’s votes. I discussed the constitutional amendment and the MHP’s approach with the party’s former Deputy General Chair Gaziantep MP Ümit Özdağ, who was expelled from the party a while back for contesting the leadership. At the same time, I also asked Özdağ about allegations that he was persuaded to stand as a candidate by Brigadier General Mehmet Partigöç, one of the key figures in the 15 July coup attempt.
- I’m going to ask about two allegations. First there was talk of you transferring to the CHP, and secondly of you preparing to establish a new party.
There is nothing else on my political agenda just now apart from preventing a chieftainship regime that is promoted under the name of an executive presidency but aims to do away with the separation of powers. Just as it is not on my agenda, it is not in my thoughts, either. I think that, initially, a fight must be waged to preserve the rule of law, separation of powers and parliamentary democracy in a way that safeguards the unitary national state. I am fighting for this along with the vast majority of the MHP’s base.
- Do you think that the MHP’s base will also say ‘no’ to an executive presidency?
More than 95% of the MHP’s base and upper echelons, apart from a small group at headquarters, openly oppose a presidential regime, saying that it will divide Turkey and lead to a single-man dictatorship.
- Will the vote reach 330 in the general assembly in your opinion?
I think it is very hard for the ‘yes’ vote to exceed 330. I believe it will exceed 49% but will not exceed 51%. I think there will be deserters, not only in the MHP, but also in the AKP. In fact, there are AKP people who are talking to me about it. They tell me they will say ‘no’. I mean, this is no great secret matter, they speak over the phone.
- Why will they say ‘no’?
Those who spoke to me were voicing of their opposition to a presidential regime before the draft emerged. But, now the draft has come out, I think the number of opponents from the MHP and AKP has increased.
- So, this means, they are opposed in principle and not just to things like the back-up MPs in the draft.
Indeed. There are those who oppose the presidency but there are also those who think that this is not a presidential system, but opens the way to an authoritarian regime that will eliminate the separation of powers. I think they’re right, because what is proposed is not even a presidential system.
- Why is it not even a presidential system?
Because, where there is no separation of powers, in terms of constitutional science, you cannot even speak of a constitution. This is taking Turkey towards a non-constitutional regime. There is basically one article. ‘Recep Tayyip Erdoğan shall govern Turkey as he pleases.’
- The AKP makes constant reference to Alparslan Türkeş’s support for a presidential regime.
That was a long time ago and something that does not take account of today’s Turkey. Yes, the late Türkeş set out his ideas about a presidential system in the 1960’s and 1970’s, at a time when the parliamentary system in Turkey was still at its crawling stage. But, then in the 1980’s and 1990’s he made it known that he considered parliamentary democracy to be the only valid system.
- Why do you think Devlet Bahçeli is acting in this way? He appears to be in a de-facto coalition with the AKP and why is he supporting a presidential system?
I don’t know why he opted to support the presidential system.
- Do you have no assessment or guess?
I don’t think that the reason is very important. What’s important for me is the result. If you have said for ten years that the presidential endeavour will lead to the partition of Turkey and have pleaded this case in all arenas and at every opportunity and if you have explained to the Turkish people, putting forward documents in proof, that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is aiming to drag Turkey into a federation through a presidential system, then, today, when you defend the presidential system, they will ask you: Were you lying for ten years or are you lying now?
- There’s got to be a reason for this, hasn’t there? It is even said that Bahçeli’s clandestine permission was involved in Tuğrul Türkeş joining the AKP and negotiations went on. Does this seem realistic to you?
I don’t want to discuss these things. They don’t interest me at all. I only want to talk about what is happening. The issue you are talking about ranks as gossip.
- Do you think there’s a secret coalition? It has attained visibility with the purging of FETOists following 15 July, but after 17-25 December people from the nationalist community also replaced Gulenists in the civil service ranks, especially in the judiciary and the police.
The purging of the Gulenists from the judiciary following 17-25 December saw the emergence of a coalition of social democrats, National View supporters, centre right and nationalists. This coalition was actually a coalition to reclaim the judiciary from the Gulenists and for pluralism to be reintroduced into the judiciary. For it to cease being a monolithic block and to become pluralistic. This was something that had to happen. Has it happened to a sufficient extent? It hasn’t. The government exerts exceptional pressure over the judiciary today. Also, once FETO had been purged from certain echelons of the security-related civil service, some nationalist police officers came to the fore. This is true, but we unfortunately see many nationalists numbering among those purged especially in the aftermath of 15 July. The MHP has complained about this, in fact. The MHP General Secretariat was assigned to pass on these complaints to the government and bring about coordination. I have no knowledge as to how their work is proceeding but I know that a large number of nationalists were purged after 15 July.
- Is it not possible that they are Gulenists?
The number of FETOists in the nationalist community is probably the lowest compared to others in Turkey. Before FETO threw in its lot with the AKP, elements of a very marginal nature who in the 1990’s were close to both FETO and the nationalist movement made a choice and cut off their ties with the nationalist movement.
- There is an allegation about you that has been picked up by newspaper columnists. It is said that General Staff Personnel Planning Management Office Head, Brigadier General Mehmet Partigöç, one of the key figures in the coup attempt, encouraged you to stand for general chair, leave the MHP, etc. Are you acquainted with Mehmet Partigöç?
I am not. I only even heard his name after 15 July. The crux of all this is that I was an Ergenekon suspect. In the period in which I was an Ergenekon suspect, the MHP Deputy Group Head said that since Ümit Özdağ was in Ergenekon they did not admit him to the MHP. I sued him. Bülent Dirilmez, the Deputy General Secretary, said the same thing. I sued him. This was in July of 2008. Then somebody went and engaged in machinations with one of the FETOist prosecutors to have me detained.
(Making a gesture meaning ‘never mind’ ...) There was an attempt to have me included in the wave of detentions in January 2009.
- Are questions doing the rounds of, ‘Where was Özdağ on the evening of 15 July?’
I was at a certain venue along with journalist Vedat Yenerer, my friend Nevzat Bor, former Nationalist Youth Wıng General Secretary Işıner Hamşioğlu, and a businessman friend of mine called Adem. I called AKP MP Selçuk Özdağ at 11 pm. I said, ‘This is a FETOist coup. Stick in there, brother, stick in.’ He said, ‘We’re resisting. You make a comment, too.’ At that, I went and called Devlet Bahçeli’s private office manager at five past eleven. I told him, ‘Pass it on to the general chair. This is a FETOist coup attempt.’ Bahçeli’s statement reached the Anatolian Agency at 11.45. After that, we met at my friend Nevzat Bor’s home. After watching television for a while, we decided to move on to parliament. Just as we were about to enter Güvenlik Street, we could hear that parliament was coming under very heavy machine gun fire. We entered a friend’s home that was in the close vicinity. We were there until four in the morning. At four, we returned to my home. We made our way to parliament at seven in the morning. I went into the general assembly chamber. The AKP’s Abdulhamit Gül said, ‘Ümit, sir, thank you. You gave your support. I was at his side when you called Selçuk.’ I regard it as being totally needless to recount all of this, but unfortunately they leave you with no choice.
- So, why is headquarters going to the trouble to fabricate such a thing about you?
It is for the same reason that they previously did this with Ergenekon. Devlet Bahçeli has a strategy of casting aspersions invoking whichever terrorist organisation is in vogue at the time against all his opponents.
- There is also talk of them saying that you were previously a CIA-MOSSAD agent. Is this true?
Oh, that means you’ve heard, as well. I think that politics should be conducted in the ideological political arena, and not on the basis of immoral aspersions. Had they believed that there was a grain of truth to a single one of these allegations, they would have listed it among the reasons for expelling me from the party. But, the reason they came up with for expelling me from the party was my announcement that I was opposing the chair without the competent party committees having passed a decision. Full stop.
- There has been a comment by Burhan Kuzu over this presidency business. He said there will be two parties. The AKP and the CHP. What will become of the MHP? If this is to be the upshot of the presidential system, is what Bahçeli is doing not suicidal for the party?
It is suicidal for the party for Bahçeli to remain at the top of the MHP, anyhow. An MHP with Devlet Bahçeli at the top has no chance under a presidential system, nor does it have any chance under a parliamentary system. For as long as Devlet Bahçeli remains at the top of the MHP, this means that all spiritual ties between the nationalist base and the MHP will be ruptured. The only thing that Devlet Bahçeli can do, if he wants to do a favour to the MHP, is to step down as the MHP’s general chair and take the party to a democratic general congress. However, Bahçeli, rather than defending the constitution that he has sworn to defend, is facilitating the introduction of an amendment that will fashion a constitution for a person who constantly breaches the constitution and will establish an authoritarian single-party regime and a single-man regime. History will not forgive him.
- Society has a hard time making sense of this. This question as to why the MHP is doing this is also being asked among the base. Is there a satisfactory answer?
No, I don’t think that any of the answers given by headquarters is satisfactory. To this end, for a while headquarters held meetings to explain this in the provinces. They prohibited the asking of questions. And nobody was able to give a satisfactory answer. With protests greeting the meetings, these meetings were halted.
- So, what percentage of the base will say ‘no’ in your opinion?
Ninety percent of the MHP base will say ‘no’ to such an authoritarian and divisive constitution.
- As such, do you think that it will not get more than 50% in a referendum?
For it to get more than 50%, if it reaches the stage of a referendum, of course appears to be quite hard. But, it appears even harder for it to pass through parliament. But, if it makes it through parliament, I think that the government will apply massively oppressive policies. The media will bear the brunt. The media will be silenced.
- Has it not been silenced anyway?
I mean, totally new operations have been embarked on to silence the media. To silence those that remain. For example, there is a massive embargo on me in the media. I am not invited to any television station. I am only invited to Türkiyem TV and Halk TV. I am able to make comments there. More or less the same applies to other opposition people.
- Do you think that the operation against Doğan will intensify?
This is possible, of course. This will just be a ‘watch your step’ kind of pressure But, I expect there to be more serious forms of pressure. Essentially, the endeavour of leading Turkey to a referendum under a state of emergency regime deprives the referendum of political legitimacy. I have not just made this point now. This is a point I have been making from the very outset. On top of this, in an environment in which society is so split, to lead it to a referendum that will further raise tension in society will amount to presenting the opportunity to the internal and external dynamics that came into operation prior to 15 July on this occasion to drag Turkey into an environment of conflict. In truth, I feel a great deal of concern over this. Hence, I have issued repeated warnings both to Bahçeli and to the Palace. However, as far as I can gather, the Palace has already reckoned on something like this and is courting it. However, I see this as being very risky. Processes of this kind can spin out of control. God forbid that we find ourselves confronted with insurrection that we are incapable of bringing under control in a country where we say Turkey’s very survival is in the balance, in a country that we say underwent the imposition of Sevres.
- The HDP is also swaying in the direction of ‘no’. Indeed, according to a survey, the party whose base most greatly supports ‘no’ is the HDP. And the AKP is using the HDP’s ‘no’ sentiment as a trump card to counter fears of partition.
The HDP engaged in bargaining over the presidential system. And it was Abdullah Öcalan who did the bargaining on behalf of the HDP-PKK. A federation model based on autonomous regions was envisaged. However, with developments in Syria opening up fresh space for the PKK, the PKK said, ‘Unless there is at least a federation or a federation in the guise of a confederation, this process will not go on.’ And so that put paid to their agreement over the presidential system.
- The current proposal envisages a unitary structure. Indeed, the very mention of a single-man implies centralisation, doesn’t it?
I am the person who raised the issue of the amendments to articles 123 and 126. I brought this up for the first time at a meeting arranged by the Union of Bar Associations.
- What is there in those articles?
It was to be made possible for a number of provinces to be combined under presidential decree. Before I had come out against this, the Prime-Minister said, ‘Can there be autonomous regions in a unitary state?’ But, there can actually be autonomy in a unitary state. This gave rise to considerable disquiet within both the MHP base and the AKP base. The CHP later also spotted this and they also took it up. As you know, the amendment to 126 was annulled in its entirety in the Constitutional Commission. The amendment to 123 has been split in half. But, I think the difficulty still remains because a presidential decree becomes equivalent to law and thıs entails changes that it will be possible to make to the state. This amounts to dispensing with the principle of legality of the administration (a principle that has held sway for 150 years).
- The AKP says that Turkey is waging a second war of salvation thanks to the terrorist attacks and the country is in a life-or-death situation. It then proclaims everyone without exception who does not line up behind it and does not support its own policies to be a terrorist. It brands journalists and intellectuals with either FETO or PKK affiliations. Where do you place the current terrorism issue?
The point which Turkey has reached today is a result of the policies followed for fourteen years by the AKP that have debased the state internally and have placed Turkish foreign policy on a sectarian footing externally, and have destroyed Turkey’s security arrangements through the opening with the PKK. This is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s and Davutoğlu’s joint gift to Turkey. Having brought Turkey to this point and having constantly claimed to have been deceived on each occasion, it is impossible to exit the grave crisis that Turkey has been left to face by now delivering Turkey into Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s hands and as the sole decision maker. Turkey waged its first War of Salvation along with parliament. I consider the view that Turkey today is in a War of Salvation to be an exaggeration, but the grave threat that it faces can only be surmounted once more with parliamentary support. However, what is being proposed to Turkey today is a model taking the form of a chieftainship regime under the name of an executive presidency in which parliament is dispensed with and which incorporates the three powers and cannot be controlled or scrutinised. There is no way that this can be accepted. Nor is it correct. Nor is it democratic. This is far removed from the notion of the rule of law. We as a nation waged the War of Salvation with the supremacy of the law being paramount.
- All shades were present in parliament.
They were, and even when an execution was to be carried out, in the case of deserters or others, there was a trial. They were tried and then executed. That is, this state was also established under the law. This state can only defend itself against the threats directed at it through the supremacy of the law, by accepting this and with the supremacy of parliament, because in all cases parliament represents 100%. On the other hand, the legitimacy that the person you call president can muster might not exceed 50, 51 or 52%. In addition, let us say that the constitutional amendment has been passed: It will be passed in a percentage in the fifties, it will pass with 51 or 52 or, you never know, with 53. On top of this, it is stated in the chapter on constitutional legitimacy in introductory books to political science that legitimacy must be in the ninety percents. We say that if this falls to the sixties the legitimacy of the constitution comes into question. In this sense, for example, the 61 Constitution had a very weak legitimacy base in terms of the support that it received from the people. It will now be lower still than this. While passing through such a precarious period, with society experiencing such severe trauma, given the existence of such large external threats and with the state having weakened so much in terms of its mechanism, no matter should be mooted apart from matters on which a large section of the people, more than 90%, have agreed on, in the interests of this country defending itself.
- You have placed stress on parliament but twelve MPs are on remand. Do you, in common with the AKP, also think that this is legitimate?
I accept parliament’s supremacy in politics. But, I also accept that parliament is one of the powers. If a parliamentarian says, ‘I do not recognise the judicial power’ then in my view they may not avail themselves of the protection possessed by parliament.
- But they could have been released after their statements had been taken. Given the Constitutional Court’s rulings on Balbay ...
I repeat. They stated that they did not recognise the judiciary. They didn’t attend.
- Demirtaş said, ‘It is not the judiciary, but arbitrary amendments to the constitution that we do not recognise.’
Arbitrary amendments to the constitution was his interpretation. The general chairs and MPs of other parties attended and gave their statements. This process is continuing, as well.
- So, you see no problem with remand.