Erdogan tightens his grip on Turkey

An omnibus bill passed by the Turkish parliament on 27th March includes provision for a discretionary fund for the president.

The opposition parties have objected to this part of the bill which gives the president a fund “for state necessities that contain discreet intelligence and defence services; the national security and higher interests of the state; political, social and cultural purposes; and extraordinary services.” The bill also provides a discretionary fund for the prime ministry.

What has raised concerns is that the presidential fund only requires the signature of the president to release the funds which may be used to cover a wide range of expenditures. Anything from confidential missions to retrieving cultural monuments overseas, deemed necessary for the government and the state qualifies for the fund. The law forbids the use of this fund for family purposes, adding that the fund cannot exceed the funds given with the overall budget of the relevant year.

As with all the other presidential enactments, which are regulated under Article 107 of the constitution, the enactment for the presidency discretionary fund will not be subject to scrutiny by the administration.

In the case of the discretionary fund for the prime ministry, signatures by the prime ministry, the finance minister and the relevant minister for whom the fund is used, will be required.

In defence of the discretionary fund, Development Minister Cevdet Yılmaz said it was given to a post and not a person, therefore the president, as the head of state, would act responsibly, adding that there was nothing odd about the fund.

AKP Group Deputy Chairman Ahmet Aydın said the fund to be given to the presidency was normal and should also be perceived as such.

But Republican People’s Party (CHP) Group Deputy Chairman Akif Hamzaçebi objected to the regulation, suggesting that the new fund, which he described as a “presidential coup,” was an attempt to gain control over the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MİT), which is under the authority of the prime ministry.

“This is a constitutional coup. [President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] wants to tie the illegal structure inside MİT directly to himself. With this regulation, secret operations will be conducted much more easily under Erdoğan’s instruction,” said Hamzaçebi. “This is treason to the parliamentary system and the prime minister.”

Hamzaçebi added that with the discretionary fund, a “parallel state” had been established inside the presidential palace.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Group Deputy Chairman Oktay Vural questioned the regulation by asking what the president would do with this fund. Vural ironically proposed MPs send one of their monthly salaries to the presidency, since apparently the presidency’s income was insufficient, and a discreet fund was being established.

Other contentious bills were also passed including a controversial Internet bill.

The new Internet regulation give ministers the power to order the removal or blocking of an online publication to “defend the right to live, secure property, ensure national security and public order, prevent crime and protect public health.”

The Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) can enforce the request of the ministry, with a blanket ban of the offending website if deemed necessary, within a maximum of four hours.

Accordingly, social media users who share content that has been subject to a legal complaint in Turkey will be punished.

As part of the president’s call on Turkey to produce larger families, a bill to grant monies to working women to encourage them to have more children was passed. Couples would be granted TL 300 for the first child, TL400 for a second and TL600 for a third. Part of the bill includes provisions for making it easier for working mothers to return to work after maternity leave.

The same bill also offers financial support for Turkish citizens who marry before the age of 27 and some funding is already in place for this purpose.

Meanwhile, Turkish daily ‘Zaman’ reports that after a month of clashes in Turkey’s parliament, which included brawls, a new security bill was passed, which the newspaper describes as paving the way for a police state.

The opposition party has said that it will contest this new law at the Constitutional Court.

Parliament, which had previously passed 67 articles of the bill despite the opposition’s attempts to obstruct the process during the assembly, voted after midnight on Thursday in favour of the remaining two articles that deal with enforcement and when the bill comes into effect.

Out of a total of 231 MPs who took part in the voting, 199 voted in favour, while 32 voted against the bill.

Akif Hamzaçebi, parliamentary group deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said just before the final vote in Parliament that CHP would bring the law before the Constitutional Court next week for violating the Constitution.

“I believe this blow you have inflicted on the Constitution and the rule of law will be rejected by the Constitutional Court,” Hamzaçebi said.

Discussions and voting on the last two articles lasted more than 16 hours. The parliamentary session, which convened at 2 pm on Thursday, ended at 6 am the following morning.

The internal security bill has been heavily criticised not only by opposition groups in Turkey but also by Western countries for undermining democracy and fundamental freedoms such as the right to life, right to demonstrate and right to privacy.

The bill, which Parliament began discussing in mid-February, gives police and governors extensive powers.

According to the law, police officers will be able to “take under protection” anyone who is considered to be creating a public disturbance, or a threat to security or private property.

It is anticipated that this new police power will be used against anti-government demonstrations in order to intimidate its opponents.

According to the law, police officers do not need a court order or prior approval from a prosecutor to take a person under protection. As this power is not legally described as “detention”, the police will not be required to take the individual for a health screening prior to being held in custody.

Under the current legislation, police officers cannot detain an individual without the permission of a prosecutor. Now police officers will be able to detain a person in for 24 hours without needing the authorisation of a prosecutor. However, in cases of mass demonstrations the detention period will extend to 48 hours.

The parliamentary group deputy chairmen from other opposition parties represented in Parliament also slammed the bill, which they described as being against democracy, when they took the floor before the final vote.

Oktay Vural, parliamentary group deputy chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), maintained that the bill would serve to intimidate people and stop them from taking part in protests, thereby repressing freedom of speech.

İdris Baluken, parliamentary group deputy chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said the struggle for democracy in Turkey would continue despite the bill, “Even if this bill becomes law, we are sure this law will serve to knit 78 million people [the population of Turkey] closer.”

The law also provides that those who take part in public demonstrations or rallies with their faces partly or totally covered to conceal their identity could face sentences of between two-and-a-half to four years imprisonment.

Protesters carrying items such as Molotov cocktails, any type of blade, tools that may be used to injure others or slingshots and iron marbles can also be sentenced to the same period of incarceration.

Following a speech during the parliamentary debate, when Recep Özel, an MP the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) said it would be a most honourable thing to vote in favour of the bill, HDP’s Hasip Kaplan responded that the bill is being passed under instructions by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “But keep in mind, this is a pyrrhic victory,” said Kaplan.

The EU, which Turkey has spent decades trying to join, has criticised the bill on several occasions, saying that it will severely restrict the basic rights and freedoms of Turkish citizens.

Sources Hurriyet and Zaman

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