Opposition leader: Turkish democracy is in danger

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The new Turkish constitution will put the judiciary in the hands of the government ahead of national elections, Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu, leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP), the main opposition force in Turkey, told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu was elected leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in May 2010, following the resignation of Deniz Baykal. He is an economist by training. CHP, the largest opposition force in Turkey, campaigned for a 'no' vote in the recent constitutional referendum, which it lost by 42 against 58%.

He was speaking to EURACTIV’s Georgi Gotev.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

Mr. President, thank you for conducting this interview in French. Welcome to Brussels. The western press call you 'the Gandhi of Turkey' – you are likened to him for his gentle style but strong beliefs. Do you think Turkey needs a Gandhi to transform the country and make it more democratic and European?

We want Turkey to become more democratic and more liberal, we have always wanted that. To be able to do that, first of all you need the social democratic mentality. We have to start our journey with Gandhi's mentality, with respect for others, with a smile, and move forward. You need to have an objective, you need to be determined and you need to start walking towards this objective.

So what is the objective? The elections?

Certainly, in a democracy, the key factor concerns the elections. You have to go to the people, be with the people, become the main party and take office.

But the recent referendum showed that the governing party, AKP, is very strong. How do you hope to win these elections?

The votes that the governing party received were not really all votes for their party. This wasn't an election but a referendum: several parties said 'yes', several parties said 'no'. It wasn't really an election – the real one will take place, probably next July.

Is the governing party stronger now that – as your party (CHP) claimed – it will be able to control the judicial system? And does this make your opponent stronger ahead of the elections?

The new constitution will put the legal system in the hands of the government, that is what will happen, which is very, very dangerous for democracy, because the legal system has to be independent. A judiciary that is controlled by the government cannot be fair. We are concerned because of this.

Does Europe understand this?

We think we have been able to explain this in our meetings. During our visit, they said that they are going to observe and monitor closely the application of these new measures. When the new laws come into force, we will put the issue back on the agenda and discuss it.

Your party is affiliated to Socialist International – did you hold meetings mainly with the European socialists?

This was my first visit to Belgium, we met the social democrats and socialists during this visit and when I come back, I will meet the other parties. First of all we had to come and see the members of our socialist family: get to know them, re-establish links and make a new start. Later, we will meet the liberals and conservatives.

There was an unfortunate incident with a statement by Hannes Swoboda, an Austrian social democratic MEP, who seemingly didn't understand the views of the CHP party. Are these problems resolved now?

We will start to build a friendship with Mr. Swoboda. He should stop listening to things that he hears from all over and should contact us directly when he has a question. We will give him the right answers and, progressively, all these little problems will disappear. We had quite a warm meeting with Mr. Swoboda, so I think the ice has been broken.

I observed that other European socialists, for example Romania's Adrian Severin, understand well the position of your party. Is this because the countries in the region understand each other better?

Mr. Severin lives in a country that neighbours Turkey, he knows the reality of the country, the Turkish people and his method of obtaining information gives him an even better overview of what is happening in our country.

In your party, there is a great deal of respect for Kemal Atatürk. Could you explain this – how the history of Turkey in the 1920s is making a reappearance today?

Kemal Atatürk had very good relations with everyone following the Turkish war of independence. He wanted peace in his country and in the world and this is still valuable all over the world today.

He opened up to the West and wanted to create a society like the one we have today. He introduced European laws in Turkey. He introduced European laws in Turkey, such as the civil, commercial and penal codes to Turkey. He placed a lot of importance on equality between men and women and gave women the right to vote and stand for election.

His objective was to take all of the positive sides of Europe. He wasn't someone who wanted the status quo, he was a revolutionary and that's why he still lives on today,

Your political opponent Mr. Erdo?an favours a 'zero problem' policy towards Turkey's neighbours, which perhaps resembles Atatürk's policy, so the main difference is the orientation of the Turkish people. Is the main problem that – according to the impressions of the Western press – Mr. Erdo?an’s party is a bit Islamist?

Mr. Erdo?an's party has been judged and condemned for having used religion in politics – a legal decision is in front of us. We don't want to have problems with our neighbours; to say that contradicts the actions that we will undertake. It is actions that are important.

We want to keep good relations with our neighbours and the CHP party is ready to do everything necessary to do this. But we do not want any of our neighbours to possess a nuclear weapon.

That includes Israel?

That includes everyone. It is not right to have a nuclear weapon in the Middle East and if there is no longer any nuclear power in the world, we will be even more satisfied. The fact that these weapons are threatening people is not really in the mentality of people in the 21st century.

Your political opponents have gone as far as accusing you of not being 100% Turkish.

They started a discussion about family and where one comes from – they even talked about measuring skulls, which shows that they are panicking, but we are going to stop them.

The Nazis measured skulls…

They did, yes. And certain people have tried to do it in Turkey.

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