NGOs call for reform to Turkey’s presidential system

NGOs call for reform to Turkey’s presidential system
Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party wave flags during an election rally in Istanbul. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 22 December 2020

NGOs call for reform to Turkey’s presidential system

NGOs call for reform to Turkey’s presidential system
  • Turkey’s presidential system was launched in July 2018

ANKARA: Turkey’s highly contentious executive presidential system is again under the spotlight following a new report released by the Checks and Balances Network, a prestigious umbrella organization gathering 294 non-governmental organizations.

Turkey’s presidential system was launched in July 2018, sparking widespread debate because of the powers it put in the president’s hands, diminishing the role of the parliament, leading to the erosion of judiciary oversight and undermining civil society’s ability to monitor public projects.

The report asserts that this system has led to a hyper-centralization of the country’s decision-making process because the president is not constrained by any supreme body or constitutional breaks.

The Checks and Balances Network has recommended reforms by separating the head of state from the party chair. It also suggested efficient parliamentary auditing over the government and president.

With the new system, presidential decrees — which are generally signed overnight — are excluded from the parliament review, while unanswered parliamentary questions to the vice-president and ministers have become common.

In the 27th term of the parliament, a total of 21,504 parliamentary questions have been submitted, but 11,663 of them have been unanswered. Only 1,700 parliamentary questions were answered in time.

“The principle of the separation of powers has been obstructed in favor of the executive power. The system now permits the president to hold the joint offices of the head of state, head of government and head of the ruling party. This situation has pushed Turkey to a hyper-presidential system,” said the report.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sued opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Group Deputy Chairman Ozgur Ozel for emotional damages after he called him a “dictator.” Ozel recently resembled Erdogan to Spanish dictator Francesco Franco as Erdogan referred to the main opposition as a “fifth column.”

The new report comes soon after the publication of a study about polarization in Turkey conducted by the Istanbul Bilgi University and German Marshall Fund, which found that 90 percent of CHP supporters and 77 percent of supporters from the Peoples’ Democratic Party think the executive presidential system is bad for the country’s future.

Rights activists have reacted to these reports by emphasizing the negative repercussions of the presidential system over freedoms and rights.

“Before the presidential system came into force, the pledge was to enlarge the area of rights and freedoms and convey reform agendas that enhance capacity of inclusive institutions and democracy which already deteriorated in the state of emergency period,” Hayriye Atas, general director of Checks and Balances Network, told Arab News.

However, since 2018, Turkish NGOs have seen a serious backsliding in their operational environment. In 2020, the activities of the civil society — including their meetings — have been curtailed due to pandemic rules.

Due to a new law, NGOs are now obliged to notify the names of their members to the government — which many fear will deter joining civil society organizations over concerns that they could be monitored.

“It can be noticed when we follow detentions and arrests of activists and human rights defenders so far. In addition, there is still a lack of an inclusive legislative framework that regulates civil society. All amendments and legislations relating to civil society pass through omnibus bills swiftly that don’t allow for consensus or participation of related actors in the legislation process,” Atas said.

The report notes that, while executive power and its control area has enhanced, the efficiency of parliament and the rule of law has decreased dramatically, with executive intervention in civil society area becoming obvious.

“If this process continues, the movement area of civil society is constricted and democracy efforts of the country will regress in the long run,” Atas said.  

Turkey’s opposition parties and NGOs are concerned by a draft bill by the government that could eliminate civil society activities in the country by allowing the Interior Ministry to replace their boards and suspend activities.

According to Atas, the parliament lost nearly all of its leverage over the decision-making process.

“The main phenomenon behind the presidential system is the strict separation of power among the judiciary, executive and parliament. In this system, the parliament should be especially empowered and efficient to monitor government, the rule-making power mainly belongs to the parliament, but the presidential system is run in favor of executive power through omnibus bills, presidential decrees, weak parliamentary commissions,” she said.

Hakan Yavuzyilmaz, a policy analyst, said one of the prevalent features of Turkish politics has been the presence of severe political polarization that becomes a facilitating factor for the democratic backsliding in the country.

“Following the transition to a presidential system, the political and social polarization did not diminish. Under such a prevalent polarization, it is hard to conclude that Turkish citizens are becoming apolitical. Nevertheless, we are also seeing a growing number of undecided voters,” he told Arab News.

“Such a voter detachment shows a warning signal for the stability of the party system. Time will tell whether existing political parties can successfully re-mobilize this electorate within the grey zone,” he added.

Egypt, Saudi FMs discuss Israeli attacks against Palestinians

Egypt, Saudi FMs discuss Israeli attacks against Palestinians
Updated 11 May 2021

Egypt, Saudi FMs discuss Israeli attacks against Palestinians

Egypt, Saudi FMs discuss Israeli attacks against Palestinians
  • Cairo spokesperson briefs Prince Faisal on efforts Egypt is making to restore peace
  • FMs agree on prioritizing political solutions in a way that ensures strengthening stability in the region

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud discussed in a phone call on Monday attacks carried out by Israeli forces at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and other recent developments in Jerusalem.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades inside the mosque and at least three Palestinians lost an eye after being struck by plastic bullets that witnesses said were aimed directly at their heads.

Tensions on the Gaza Strip border with Israel continued to mount following recent violent confrontations at the mosque and in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Ahmed Hafez, a spokesperson for the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Shoukry briefed Prince Faisal on the efforts Egypt is making to restore peace. He stressed the need for Israel to halt its aggression and to provide the necessary protection for the Palestinian people.

The two ministers affirmed their rejection of all illegal practices aimed at undermining legitimate Palestinian rights. They also agreed on prioritizing political solutions in a way that ensures strengthening stability in the region and the importance of all parties respecting international law.

In an official statement, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry expressed its condemnation of “these rapid and dangerous developments.”

The statement emphasized the need to stop all practices that violate the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, especially during the month of Ramadan. The statement also called for the protection of Palestinian civilians in the mosque and others in East Jerusalem.

Gazans serving up smoked fish on first day of Eid

Gazans serving up smoked fish on first day of Eid
Updated 11 May 2021

Gazans serving up smoked fish on first day of Eid

Gazans serving up smoked fish on first day of Eid
  • Palestinians say herring and fesikh fish increase the appetite and are useful for the stomach following a month of fasting
  • Local fish industry is flourishing as imported herring fish from Israel, which for years had been the main supplier for Gaza’s needs, has decreased significantly

GAZA STRIP: Abed Rabbo Adwan, who learned a few years ago how to prepare herring, prefers to cook the fish at his home in the city of Rafah, which is in the southern Gaza Strip. 

Herring and fesikh fish are used as the main dish on the tables of the majority of Gaza residents during the first day of Eid Al-Fitr because they believe it increases the appetite and is useful for the stomach following a month of fasting.

Its popularity has spread throughout Palestinian homes, especially in the southern Gaza Strip, adjacent to the border with Egypt.

Adwan said that preparing herring at home guarantees quality, and at a much lower price compared to what is available in the market, which is usually prepared locally or imported from Israel.

He said his family helps him prepare the fish, which creates an atmosphere of happiness during the last days of Ramadan and ahead of Eid.

The local fish industry is flourishing as the import of herring fish from Israel, which for years had been the main supplier for Gaza’s needs, has decreased significantly. The price of a kilo of locally prepared smoked fish is 20 shekels ($6), about half the price of its imported counterpart from Israel.

To start, Adwan buys a kilo of mackerel or frozen tuna, cleans the fish, and then salts it with some help from his family. After that, he smokes the fish in a primitive way that does not cost much.

The preparation begins with removing its entrails, filling the cleaned fish with salt, and leaving it for 24 hours. After washing it well and then drying the fish, he hangs it vertically with iron clips over iron bars inside an oven. The flames are ignited with charcoal and sawdust.

Adwan does not have a furnace. He uses an iron container as an oven and closes it tightly to block the air so the fish inside does not catch fire or get spoiled.

“The fish remains in this position, exposed to smoke, for about two hours,” he said. “This gives the fish the taste of smoke and turns its color from white to yellowish to gold. Then it is ready to eat.”

As some in his family prefer fesikh to herring for breakfast on the first day of Eid, Adwan makes a limited amount of it using a different method. A kilo of fesikh in the market ranges between 10 and 30 shekels and it is stored in a place away from the air for about a month.

Traders say that Gaza produces large quantities of herring and fesikh which is sufficient for local consumption. Gaza can even export the fish if given the opportunity.

Ibrahim Hejazy, the owner of one of the largest herring plants in Gaza, said he started in the industry about seven years ago with a limited quantity that was for personal consumption. The idea developed and he set up a factory that started to produce quantity.

“I was encouraged by the great turnout to expand the factory and bring in a special oven for preparation,” Hejazy said. “Today, we have become the most famous factory in the Gaza Strip, distributing what we produce to merchants, distributors and shops.”

Hejazi took over other bakeries and doubled his workforce, which would have been overloaded with work in the middle of Ramadan. They work all night and day preparing smoked fish to meet the market’s needs.

Gaza block collapses after Israeli strike, rockets hit Tel Aviv

People gather at the site of a collapsed building in the aftermath of Israeli air strikes on Gaza City on May 11, 2021. (AFP)
People gather at the site of a collapsed building in the aftermath of Israeli air strikes on Gaza City on May 11, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 11 May 2021

Gaza block collapses after Israeli strike, rockets hit Tel Aviv

People gather at the site of a collapsed building in the aftermath of Israeli air strikes on Gaza City on May 11, 2021. (AFP)
  • Israel Airports Authority halt take-offs at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport "to allow defense of nation's skies"
  • At least 28 people in the Palestinian enclave and two in Israel have been killed so far

GAZA/JERUSALEM: A 13-story residential block in the Gaza Strip collapsed on Tuesday night after being hit by an Israeli air strike, witnesses said.
Three people were wounded in a retaliatory rocket attack from Gaza on Tel Aviv
Video footage showed three plumes of thick, black smoke rising from the Gaza tower, its upper storys still intact as they fell. The building houses an office used by the political leadership of the enclave’s Islamist rulers, Hamas.

Israeli firefighter extinguishes a burning vehicle on Tuesday after Hamas launched rockets from Gaza Strip to Ashkelon, at southern Israel. (AFP)

Electricity in the surrounding area went out, and residents were using flashlights.
Shortly after the attack, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group said they would respond by firing rockets at Tel Aviv.
Air raid sirens and explosions were heard around the city, and the skies were lit up by the streaks of multiple interceptor missiles launched toward the incoming rockets.
Pedestrians ran for shelter, and diners streamed out of Tel Aviv restaurants while others flattened themselves on pavements as the sirens sounded.
Israeli television stations said three people had been wounded in the suburb of Holon.

Burnt vehicles are seen in the town of Holon near Tel Aviv after rockets were launched towards Israel from the Gaza Strip by Hamas. (AFP)

The Israel Airports Authority said it had halted take-offs at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport “to allow defense of (the) nation’s skies.”
The US State Department urged restraint on both sides.
“We are now carrying out our promise,” Hamas’s armed wing said in a statement. “The Qassam Brigades are launching their biggest rocket strike against Tel Aviv and its suburbs, with 130 rockets, in response to the enemy’s targeting of residential towers.”
Hours earlier, Israel had sent 80 jets to bomb Gaza and massed tanks on the border as rocket barrages hit Israeli towns for a second day, deepening a conflict in which at least 28 people in the Palestinian enclave and two in Israel have been killed.
Residents of the block and people living nearby had been warned to evacuate the area around an hour before the air strike, according to witnesses, and there were no reports of casualties two hours after it collapsed.
The most serious outbreak of fighting since 2019 between Israel and armed factions in Gaza was triggered by clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque on Monday.

Flames are seen following an Israeli air strike on Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 11, 2021. (AFP)

The city, holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, has been tense during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with the threat of a court ruling evicting Palestinians from homes claimed by Jewish settlers adding to the friction.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would step up its strikes on Gaza, an enclave of 2 million people, in response to the rocket attacks.
“Both the strength of the attacks and the frequency of the attacks will be increased,” he said in a video statement.
Within an hour, Israel said it had deployed jets to bomb rocket launch sites in and around Gaza City.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Officials said infantry and armor were being dispatched to reinforce the tanks already gathered on the border, evoking memories of the last Israeli ground incursion into Gaza to stop rocket attacks, in 2014.
More than 2,100 Gazans were killed in the seven-week war that followed, according to the Gaza health ministry, along with 73 Israelis, and thousands of homes in Gaza were razed.
On Tuesday, before the block collapsed, the Gaza health ministry said at least 28 Palestinians, including 10 children, had been killed and 152 wounded by Israeli strikes since Hamas on Monday fired rockets toward Jerusalem for the first time since 2014.
Israel’s national ambulance service said two women had been killed in rocket strikes on the southern city of Ashkelon.
The International Committee of the Red Cross urged all sides to step back, and reminded them of the requirement in international law to try to avoid civilian casualties.

Iran has enriched uranium to up to 63 percent purity, IAEA says

Iran has enriched uranium to up to 63 percent purity, IAEA says
Updated 12 May 2021

Iran has enriched uranium to up to 63 percent purity, IAEA says

Iran has enriched uranium to up to 63 percent purity, IAEA says
  • Iran made the shift to 60%, a big step towards nuclear weapons-grade from the 20% previously achieved
  • The deal says Iran cannot enrich beyond 3.67% fissile purity, far from the 90% of weapons-grade

VIENNA: “Fluctuations” at Iran’s Natanz plant pushed the purity to which it enriched uranium to 63 percent, higher than the announced 60 percent that complicated talks to revive its nuclear deal with world powers, a report by the UN nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday.
Iran made the shift to 60 percent, a big step toward nuclear weapons-grade from the 20 percent previously achieved, last month in response to an explosion and power cut at Natanz that Tehran has blamed on Israel and appears to have damaged its enrichment output at a larger, underground facility there.
Iran’s move rattled the current indirect talks with the United States to agree conditions for both sides to return fully to the 2015 nuclear deal, which was undermined when Washington abandoned it in 2018, prompting Tehran to violate its terms.
The deal says Iran cannot enrich beyond 3.67 percent fissile purity, far from the 90 percent of weapons-grade. Iran has long denied any intention to develop nuclear weapons.
“According to Iran, fluctuations of the enrichment levels... were experienced,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in the confidential report to its member states, seen by Reuters.
“The agency’s analysis of the ES (environmental samples) taken on 22 April 2021 shows an enrichment level of up to 63 percent U-235, which is consistent with the fluctuations of the enrichment levels (described by Iran),” it added, without saying why the fluctuations had occurred.
A previous IAEA report last month said Iran was using one cascade, or cluster, of advanced IR-6 centrifuge machines to enrich to up to 60 percent and feeding the tails, or depleted uranium, from that process into a cascade of IR-4 machines to enrich to up to 20 percent.
Tuesday’s report said the Islamic Republic was now feeding the tails from the IR-4 cascade into a cascade of 27 IR-5 and 30 IR-6s centrifuges to refine uranium to up to 5 percent.


Iranian president slams new election criteria

Iranian president slams new election criteria
Updated 11 May 2021

Iranian president slams new election criteria

Iranian president slams new election criteria
  • Rouhani: Age restrictions ‘too narrow’
  • Critics say comments are charade to conjure mirage of democracy

LONDON: Iran’s outgoing President Hassan Rouhani has slammed the country’s electoral criteria as “too narrow” ahead of June elections.

But dissidents and critics say his comments are a charade designed to give legitimacy to an autocratic regime and conjure a mirage of democracy in the country.

Rouhani, who is set to relinquish his position before the election, said Iran’s 12-member Guardian Council had “no legal authority” to impose new criteria excluding candidates aged younger than 40 and older than 75. 

He urged the Interior Ministry, which oversees electoral registrations, to bypass the council’s new age controls.

Their most noticeable effect will be the prevention of Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, minister of communications and information technology, from standing for president. 

Critics have long said the Guardian Council has the power to block candidates based on other criteria, including simple disapproval by the country’s religious leadership.

Council member Siamak Raphik defended the age criteria, saying the body is “the sole custodian of the eligibility of candidates.” 

Iran’s list of approved electoral candidates will be revealed on May 26 following an appeal period.

Before the last presidential election in 2017, 1,636 people registered to run, a massive increase compared with 686 in 2013. But after inspection by the Guardian Council, just six candidates were allowed to stand. 

And despite many women putting their names forward during elections, not a single one has ever been allowed to stand in Iran’s history.

This year’s election will take place amid widespread public disillusionment, a fourth wave of coronavirus and middle-class animosity, meaning low voter turnout is highly likely. The turnout in last year’s parliamentary election dropped to a record low of 42 percent.

Currently, more than 30 political figures have declared a campaign to run for president, including key members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. 

Several major politicians have yet to announce their intentions, as they test support and seek final intelligence on whether they have sufficient approval. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said he wants the eventual president to be “young and pious.”