Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has spoken out against the shaping of the military leadership in accordance with entrenched traditions, saying the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) is subject to laws and rules that have the final say on the promotions of members of the military.
“We cannot rule the TSK with traditions. The armed forces have their own laws and rules, and the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) is a consultative body,” he said on Wednesday evening during a live interview on a local TV station in his family's hometown, Rize.
The prime minister's remarks were a clear reference to the recent crisis between the General Staff and the government over the promotion of top generals. The government was strongly opposed to the promotion of generals who have been implicated in coup plots, but the General Staff struggled to have them promoted during last week's YAŞ meeting.
The General Staff argued that it has its own traditions according to which the top military brass is shaped. Erdoğan, however, did not retreat from his position, and the controversial generals were eventually not promoted.
“Traditions may be used on some occasions, but can we not go beyond traditions? Yes we can. Who is to be called to account or held responsible at this point? The civilian administration. This is the case in the world, and in Western countries. We are a NATO member country. This is the case in all NATO member countries. We did what was necessary,” Erdoğan said.
According to the prime minister, the armed forces should not harbor any member who is suspected of links to a criminal act. Otherwise, the military will suffer from a loss of trust in the eyes of the people.
The TSK has for the past few years been the target of harsh criticism due to its strong support for officers who are accused of membership in Ergenekon, a terrorist network accused of working to destroy Parliament and the government. The main goal of Ergenekon is to unseat the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and eventually enable the military to seize control of the country. Many military officers, both active duty and retired, are accused of membership in the organization. Dozens of them are currently in prison pending trial on charges related to attempted coups.
Erdoğan pledged to start preparations for a brand new constitution in 2011 if the AK Party is re-elected.
“The armed forces cannot remain under suspicion. It should march toward the future without any suspicion. No one has the right to cause suspicion over the armed forces. This applies to both civilians and the General Staff. We [civilians and the military] should stay hand in hand, and not allow speculations to harm the armed forces. If the armed forces has members who are engaged in unlawful acts, then they should not be permitted to remain within the military,” Erdoğan stressed.
‘We will draft new constitution if re-elected in 2011’
The prime minister pledged to start preparations for a brand new constitution in 2011 if the AK Party is re-elected in the parliamentary elections.
The AK Party was hoping to replace the current Constitution, a remnant of Turkey’s 1980 coup d’état, when it was swept to power in 2002. It drafted a document in 2007, but failed to convince the opposition parties to support it. Undeterred, the party prepared a list of partial amendments -- including vital changes to the most problematic articles of the Constitution. The amendments will be put to a public referendum on Sept. 12.
Erdoğan said the new constitution will be the joint work of all parties represented in Parliament.
The prime minister also criticized the main opposition parties -- the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) -- due to their approach to the planned changes to the Constitution. The three parties have announced their opposition to the package.
“This is the first time those three parties have reached a consensus. Such a consensus was not observed before. But our people never cooperate on evil. They always cooperate on the positive,” he said. The prime minister also pointed to the government’s intention to end judicial “tutelage” over the country as the reason for the opposition parties’ reluctance to support the reform package.
“This is really interesting. If you are to call it an operation to seize the judiciary, that was undertaken by the CHP. Thanks to whom? Thanks to former Justice Minister Seyfi Oktay. The CHP had between 3,000 and 5,000 of its men appointed to higher positions in the judiciary. Now they are uneasy with our move to free the judiciary of the caste system they created. They are afraid of losing their privilege,” he noted.
Erdoğan also said he will quit his position as the AK Party’s leader if they fail to emerge as the top political party from in the general elections scheduled for next year. “In such a case, I will see myself as responsible. One should not stick to a position. He should know how to quit if he is not successful,” he said.
Asked about AK Party voters who would not want him to quit his position, Erdoğan responded: “Politics is not done solely in a political party. You can engage in politics through a foundation, an association or a think tank. Your love for politics is sufficient. I am steadfast on this point.”