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.


Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria

Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria
Updated 3 min 59 sec ago

Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria

Russian helicopter makes emergency landing in Syria
  • Russian Defense Ministry said the helicopter was not fired at
AMMAN/MOSCOW: A Russian Mi-35 helicopter made an emergency landing due to technical problems during a flight over Syria’s northern Hasaka province, state agencies quoted Russia’s Defense Ministry as saying on Sunday.
“The crew was quickly evacuated to the airfield. There is no threat to lives of the pilots,” the RIA news agency cited a Defense Ministry statement as saying.
The helicopter was not fired at, it added.
Syrian state media said earlier there were reports of a Russian helicopter crash in northeast Syria that killed the pilot.
It said the site of the crash was in Hasaka province, near Tal Tamr close to a Russian base.

Iranian police force deputy dismissed over protests in Baluchestan Province

Iranian police force deputy dismissed over protests in Baluchestan Province
Updated 23 min 16 sec ago

Iranian police force deputy dismissed over protests in Baluchestan Province

Iranian police force deputy dismissed over protests in Baluchestan Province

Iranian police force deputy dismissed over protests in Baluchestan Province


Vatican envoy to Iraq tested Covid-19 positive: officials

Vatican envoy to Iraq tested Covid-19 positive: officials
Updated 24 min 21 sec ago

Vatican envoy to Iraq tested Covid-19 positive: officials

Vatican envoy to Iraq tested Covid-19 positive: officials

BAGHDAD: The Vatican’s ambassador to Iraq Mitja Leskovar has tested positive for Covid-19, two officials told AFP Sunday, just days before Pope Francis’ historic visit.
“Yes, he tested positive, but it will have no impact on the visit,” an Iraqi official involved in the papal plans said.
An Italian diplomat also confirmed the infection.
As apostolic nuncio to Baghdad, Leskovar had been traveling across the country in recent weeks to prepare for the pope’s ambitious visit, including visits to Mosul in the north, the shrine city of Najaf and the southern site of Ur.
During foreign trips, popes typically stay at the nuncio’s residence, but Iraqi officials have not revealed where Francis will reside during his trip, citing security reasons.
Iraq is experiencing a resurgence of coronavirus infections, which the health ministry has blamed on a new faster-spreading strain that first emerged in the United Kingdom.
The country of 40 million is registering around 4,000 new cases per day, near the peak that it had reached in September, with total infections nearing 700,000 and deaths at nearly 13,400.
Pope Francis, as well as his Vatican staff and the dozens of international reporters traveling with him, have already been vaccinated.
Iraq itself has yet to begin its vaccination campaign.


Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion

Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion
Updated 28 February 2021

Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion

Israeli defense minister says Iran behind cargo ship explosion

DUBAI: Iran was most likely behind an explosion that occurred earlier this week on an Israeli-owned cargo vessel in the Gulf of Oman, the Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said. 
The MV Helios Ray, which was carrying vehicles in the Gulf was struck on Febriuary 25.
“The location of the ship in relative close proximity to Iran raises the belief that Iran was responsible, but it must still be verified," Gantz said in an interview with Israeli state television Kan.

“Right now, at an initial assessment level, given the proximity and the context that is my assessment,” he added.And Gantz said that it was known that Iran was intending to target Israeli assets and citizens.
Top Israeli defense and political leaders will discuss on Sunday their response to the apparent attack, Kan reported citing officials who have said it "crossed a red line."

The explosion did not cause any casualties but left two 1.5-meter-diameter holes in the side of the vessel.

The MV Ray Helios arrived in Dubai's port for repairs Sunday, according to the Associated Press.

 The Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray was seen sitting at dry dock facilities in Dubai by an AP journalist. 

Reuters quoted a statement by a spokesman for Dubai state port operator DP World saying that “an assessment can be made” when the ship arrives. DP World owns and operates the dry docks, where ship repairs and maintenance are carried out.

Iranian authorities have not publicly commented on the ship.


Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib
Updated 28 February 2021

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

Yemeni minister warns of looming humanitarian crisis in Marib

DUBAI: Yemen’s information minister has warned of an imminent humanitarian crisis in the governorate of Marib that “cannot be contained” due to continued fighting by the Iran-backed Houthi militia. 

Minister Muammar al-Eryani told the country’s state news agency Saba that the governorate holds the biggest number of refugee families, who have been displaced due to the ongoing Houthi violence. 

Eryani said Marib had received more than two million refugees who have settled there since the war broke out, saying they make up 60 percent of refugees in the country. Those refugees represent 7.5 percent of the total population in Yemen.  

The minister was citing a report on from the Executive Unit for IDPs Camps Management that was released Friday.