Turkey’s opposition: Referendum will deepen problems

Al Jazeera speaks to Sezgin Tanrikulu, senior opposition Republican People’s Party MP leading the party’s ‘No’ campaign.

Turkey - Sezgin Tanrikulu
Sezgin Tanrikulu leads the CHP's 'No' campaign [Al Jazeera]

Istanbul, Turkey – Only a few days remain before Turkish voters decide if they want to be governed by a presidential office with significantly increased powers.

The proposed constitutional changes in the April 16 referendum seek to transform Turkey’s current system to an executive presidential system.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) say the new system will make Turkey more efficient and stable.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party and other critics argue the amendments will give too much power to one individual, undermining the separation of powers in the government.

Turkey has been under a state of emergency since a group in the Turkish army tried to overthrow the government in a failed coup attempt that killed around 300 people in total.

And Ankara’s relations with the European Union (EU), particularly with Germany and the Netherlands, have been tense since last month after these two EU member states barred Turkish ministers from rallying at referendum campaign gatherings within their borders, where millions of Turkish voters live.

Al Jazeera speaks to Sezgin Tanrikulu, a senior CHP MP who leads the party’s “No” campaign, on the recent developments in advance of the referendum, his views about the constitutional changes and his response to the advocates of the constitutional amendments.

READ MORE: Q&A: ‘Executive presidency will help Turkish democracy’

Al Jazeera: What is your response to the government’s argument that the parliamentary system in force in Turkey is inefficient and leads Turkey to uncertainties and crises?

Constitutions are products of collective compromise. We are going to have the referendum in an environment of polarisation, not compromise.

Sezgin Tanrikulu: We accept that the parliamentary system in Turkey has its flaws. However, the AK Party’s proposal has the potential to deepen the problems in the system, rather than solve them. Turkey has been governed with a parliamentary system for over 100 years. Throwing away this tradition will not solve anything.

The AK Party is trying to introduce a freak unprecedented “presidential system”, while practically abolishing the parliamentary system.

Turkey is highly diverse in terms of its political and social colours. And the parliamentary system has been a platform where these colours mix together, negotiating and discussing their issues to reach a shared wisdom.

The parliamentary system is not something untouchable and holy. However, it is crystal clear that the problems we are having in Turkey do not stem from the system itself, but how it is run in Turkey.

For example, there is a problem of representation in Turkey as a result of 10 percent electoral threshold for political parties. It is a product of the Constitution that entered into force following the military coup on April 12, 1980. Another issue is the breach of the separation of powers, because of which an independent judiciary cannot be established.

We have repeatedly made proposals to fix these and other issues, but did not get a positive response from the AK Party. The governing party used all the flaws of the current parliamentary system to its own advantage, particularly the high electoral threshold.

Al Jazeera: How do you see Turkey’s future in the case of a “Yes” vote in the upcoming referendum?

Tanrikulu: The AK Party is facing a serious political crisis. And they want to escape the responsibility for the crisis it caused throughout the 15 years of power, trying to blame the parliamentary system for the situation. However, as we [CHP] grasp the dynamics of Turkey very well, we know that a “Yes” vote in the referendum would deepen the crisis.

There are many structural problems in Turkey, including Kurdish issue. Antidemocratic practices are the reason for these ongoing problems. Regardless of which political system Turkey is governed with, these problems will persist and even get worse, unless Turkey completes its democratisation process.

If you try to impose one colour, one man’s rule, to this colourful place, the problems will deepen. Therefore, a “Yes” vote in the referendum will likely make the different colours in the country uneasy and cranky.

Let’s say 51 percent of the population voted “Yes” in the referendum, this will mean the alienation of the remaining 49 percent. And in the imposed system, there are no proposed solutions for the hypothetical 49 percent.

There is only forced consent, alienation and dismissal.

Al Jazeera: What is CHP’s position in the ongoing crisis between Turkey and some of its European allies? Does it help in any way to “Yes” or “No” campaigns? Do you think some of the EU countries are taking positions in favour of “No” and take actions accordingly?

Tanrikulu: The AK Party has started an artificial crisis with Europe. Yes, we have issues with the EU, particularly the stalemate in the membership talks. However, the reason for the crisis Turkey had with Germany and the Netherlands is the right-wing politicians feeding each other [to gain more public support].

The AK Party is trying to boost the nationalistic feelings in Turkey to get more votes in the referendum, while right-wing politicians in Europe are using this policy of AK Party to enhance rightist tendencies in their own countries.

The CHP’s position is firm: pursuing peaceful policies both inside and outside the country. Turkey cannot handle any more tensions, but neither the governing party nor right-wing politicians in Europe care.

Al Jazeera: Do you harbour any doubts on how smooth the referendum process will be under the ongoing state of emergency? If so, what sort of issues might come up? What are your preparations in terms of monitoring the referendum?

Tanrikulu: Such a critical constitutional amendment should not have been put to referendum during the state of emergency. The referendum will deepen the polarisation Turkey has been going through.

Constitutions are products of collective compromise. We are going to have the referendum in an environment of polarisation, not compromise.

The security of this referendum is under threat in certain regions. As CHP, we will put the maximum effort to monitor ballot boxes and prevent any potential fraud.

READ MORE: Vox-pops – Turkish voters weigh in before referendum

Al Jazeera: The far-right MHP had firmly rejected an executive presidency in Turkey until recently. What do you think about the sharp change in their stance and the party’s recent close cooperation with the AK Party? Do you think this cooperation will continue after the referendum?

Tanrikulu: The two parties seem to be in an alliance in line with a deal made to share the power. However, we do not know how this power-sharing process will be implemented. Many who belong to the electoral base of the MHP are not happy with this arrangement.

MHP leader Devlet Bahceli did not check with the party’s electoral base before making the decision [to side with the AK party]. Whichever result comes out of the referendum, I believe the disagreements in the MHP will intensify and their agreement with the AK Party will fail.

Al Jazeera: Turkish-EU relations are going through a tough period. The membership talks are in a stalemate and the sides have exchanged harsh remarks after the recent crisis over Turkish ministers’ visits. How do you see the future of the bilateral relations and do you think the sides have the will to fix the relations?

Tanrikulu: The AK Party does not have such a will or goal. To achieve progress in talks, both sides should do their duties. The AK Party should take steps towards democratisation, transparent governance and separation of powers. However, the party is far from it.

The government views the EU membership process as an obstacle to its goals. With the AK Party in power, Turkey might stray further from path to the EU membership.

Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_uras

Source: Al Jazeera