The amendment that will allow political parties to form alliances in the 2019 presidential elections is expected to be ratified at the general assembly of Parliament this week.
Besides the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the Great Unity Party (BBP), which does not hold any seats in Parliament, has announced its support for the amendment.
Daily Sabah spoke with BBP Chairman Mustafa Destici about a range of topics including their reason for supporting the "People's Alliance" and the BBP's core political principles.
Expressing that their support for the alliance is not something new, Destici reminded that they were always against the political system and the constitution drawn up after the 1980 coup. He added that they supported the referendum held on April 16, 2017 for this reason.
According to Destici, who asserted that his party is supporting the alliance because of overlapping principles, the People's Alliance could gather around 60 percent of the votes in the 2019 presidential election.
Daily Sabah: Could you tell us why you are supporting the People's Alliance as the BBP?
Mustafa Destici: Firstly, our support is not something new. Before the conception of this alliance, we as a party supported the April 16 referendum and the change in the system of governance.
We did this because since its foundation, the BBP always declared that there is an alternative to this system and that the party would do anything in its power to change it.
In this respect, our party has supported all changes to this system. We have supported the referendum in 2010, which allowed people to directly elect the president. When we had seats in Parliament, we supported many constitutional amendments and contributed to the ratification of many laws.
If we are to discuss the BBP's support even further, we also supported the decision in 1989 which lifted bans on politicians. Why is the BBP against this system? Because it's an extension of the junta that organized the 1980 military coup. It's a system shaped by the constitution they made.
Therefore, we desire the change of system; this was an opportunity and we seized this opportunity so that the system could change.
Meanwhile, it's not the system we desired completely; it has its shortcomings, but we believe these issues could be resolved within a short period of time. When compared with previous systems, we believe the new system is more suitable for Turkey.
Even though certain circles in Turkey do not believe so, we are sure that this system will enforce balance of powers better than the previous ones.
The legislative will return to its original duty of legislating and supervising, relinquishing its hold on the executive. The judiciary, on the other hand, will continue to be independent and neutral.
In the previous law, the judiciary was defined as independent; with the April 16 referendum, neutrality is also added as a trait. We believe this is an important step. There might be various allegations about the judiciary today.
These allegations might be wrong, they might be right; nevertheless, it is important how the judiciary is defined in the constitution. Issues regarding the judiciary might be resolved in the future. Therefore, in terms of the balance of powers, we believe this system is better than the previous one. This is why we approved it.
The AK Party, MHP and BBP are the three main parties that supported this change in the system. It was MHP Chair Devlet Bahçeli who proposed this system and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan supported it. When the amendment was voted in the referendum, we supported it.
Moreover, we were also involved in the making of the amendment; it doesn't mean all of our proposals were approved, but we contributed to it. I believe this is also true for the AK Party and the MHP as well; eventually, a compromise was reached and the amendment was ratified in Parliament. Then, when the amendment was carried to the referendum, we voted yes.
Turkey is now being governed by this new system. Two articles of the amendment were implemented right after its ratification: party-member president and changes regarding the structure of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).
The remaining changes along with the adjustment laws will be implemented incrementally until the November 2019 election. After that election, Turkey will be governed with a completely new system. We are also involved in the adjustment law process as we continue to make proposals about them.
Mr. [Mustafa] Şentop has visited us before and after the referendum, informing us about the changes. In this respect, I thank him for his courtesy.
There are three main topics when we look at the proposed adjustment law package: changes in municipal elections, changes in improving electoral security and the formation of alliances. Continuing from the last topic, out of necessity, illegal electoral alliances were made in the past.
We know the hardships of this situation; for this reason, we have been supporting this bid since the beginning. A proposal with two alternatives was submitted to Parliament; parties might enter the elections with their own emblem and lists or they might enter the elections as a part of an alliance with a joint list while also maintaining their own party identity.
We have supported this proposal; we declared that we are together with the AK Party and MHP in this matter.
Many people ask why the BBP supports this alliance. We support it because of the system change they have implemented. We are together with the AK Party and MHP in this, because we believe the change in the system of governance is beneficial for Turkey.
Meanwhile, the other bloc led by the Republican People's Party (CHP) states that they will revert to the old system if they win the elections. We don't want to revert to the old system, so we support this alliance.
DS: Recently, you made a statement claiming that the People's Alliance needs the BBP. Could you elaborate on this?
MD: Actually, my statement was a bit different; it was misunderstood. I would like to express that this alliance brings parties that have many policies in common together. Therefore, the AK Party, MHP and BBP always need each other in Turkish politics.
Moreover, the country needs us. AK Party has two reasons in forming this alliance: achieving the simple majority in the election and securing more than 60 percent of votes by uniting people who have national and conservative sensibilities. Securing more than 60 percent of the votes would not leave any doubt that it is legitimate.
Indeed, this alliance won't suffice with acquiring the simple majority of the votes. Both the AK Party and MHP will definitely have their own reasons, but as BBP we believe an alliance aiming to bring people with nationalist and conservative sensibilities will need us. This is why the BBP sided with this alliance.
DS: Will you enter the 2019 election with AK Party lists?
MD: The conditions are yet to be discussed. The law package has to be ratified first; then, parties wanting to form an alliance will come together and discuss the terms. Criteria are not set; the BBP will be definitely in a position that maximizes its contribution to the alliance.
However, this is an issue that will be discussed when the elections draw near. We have no prejudices about the alliance.
DS: There are some comments that suggest that the MHP is not very pleased with the BBP's involvement in the alliance. What is your take on these comments?
MD: I don't believe they are true. Our party members talk with MHP officials when they come across each other. MHP officials have said that this is not the case.
Therefore, it is clear that MHP has no issues with the BBP being a part of the alliance. As I have said, the terms of the alliance will be discussed later; it is not much of an issue. The most important part is to have good intentions toward each other; in this respect, I believe all three parties have nothing but that.
President Erdoğan is very sincere in this process; he is positive and constructive. Both the referendum and the alliance were proposed by MHP Chair Bahçeli. Thus, both Erdoğan and Bahçeli have contributed immensely to this process.
As the BBP, we have also contributed to it. Considering all, I don't believe such superficial allegations of disagreement between parties are beneficial.
DS: During your meetings with the AK Party, have you ever discussed what the BBP expects in exchange for its support to the alliance?
MD: We have never discussed such matters; personally, I believe it is inappropriate. We have never been a part of a political negotiation and we never will.
We are more than a political party; we are a political movement. We are an ideological movement. We have certain political aims; yet, our priority was changing the system and this happened.
The 2019 presidential election will be between those who support the new system and those who want the old system. Regardless, I hope this process will also satisfy the BBP voter base as well.
DS: You said the BBP is an ideological movement. How do you define ideology? What changes do you expect in the AK Party's domestic and foreign policies with the alliance?
MD: For me, the BBP could be defined as nationalist, spiritual and democrat. These are the traits that are at the core of the BBP's ideology. Regarding the AK Party's policies, we always voice our objections to problematic ones. Forming an alliance doesn't prevent us from criticizing constructively.
For instance, in terms of the fight against terrorism, we have seen many issues. We voiced our criticism. Meanwhile, we supported the reconciliation process and the all-out war against terrorist elements that followed it.
We asserted that terror is a phenomenon that has cultural, educational, sociological and psychological dimensions. They have infiltrated municipalities, the Parliament and state institutions. We said legal action must be taken against them. Therefore, we always advocated a holistic approach.
Today, we see that many of the issues we have voiced are being corrected. We support these changes. We also support operations within Turkey and abroad, especially Operation Olive Branch. We are together with the government in these matters.
DS: How does the BBP perceive Turkey's EU bid?
MD: As the BBP, we have always been aware of EU's hypocrisy; therefore, we believe it's an impossible bid and nothing but a dream.
For this reason, we said Turkey shouldn't be deceived by the EU as they will never allow Turkey to become a member; it turns out that we were unfortunately right.
The EU has double standards; they have given rights to the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus that weren't provided to Turkey. There's nothing more to say about this situation.
DS: Some are claiming that there will be snap elections. What is your take on these claims?
MD: It seems like a faint possibility; I believe elections will take place on time. The municipal elections will definitely take place in March 2019.
Regarding presidential and parliamentary elections, the information I have gathered along with my personal experience suggest that they will be held on time.
DS: During the discussions about alliances in Parliament, the CHP claimed that it would be impossible to achieve ballot box security if the alliance legislation is ratified. How would you respond to this claim?
MD: The CHP has visited political parties in this regard; they have visited our party as well. I believe their claims are baseless. During their visit, we have said that their allegations were not true. They said that the presiding officer of the ballot box should not be a civil servant.
Interestingly, they support the idea that a member of the pro-PKK Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) as a presiding officer.
Until six years ago, they were civil servants. When the AK Party suggested that they should be representatives of political parties, the CHP had rejected the idea.
This is the usual contradictory approach of the CHP. If the CHP had suggested all political parties to have a representative, it would make sense. Unfortunately, they always cherry pick what suits their best interests.
The proposal to unite electoral district actually aims to establish electoral security. We know that the PKK forces people to vote for a certain party at gunpoint or just votes "instead" of the people.
In addition, when there is an incident at the ballot box or electoral centers, people will be able to call the police. What is wrong with that? These are all baseless and contradictory. I wish the CHP could propose a better alternative as the main opposition party.
For instance, we sent them a proposal package; we advocated the removal of the electoral threshold, distribution of electoral funds regardless of the threshold and equal rights to propaganda.
If they had visited political parties with a proposal prioritizing the aforementioned aspects, it would be more meaningful. They should have proposed a substantial alternative to the government or the People's Alliance.
DS: You recently visited Hatay and Kilis near the Syrian border. What are your observations and thoughts about the Afrin operation?
MD: We visited the Hassa, Kırıkhan and Akbez settlements in Hatay, bordering Syria. We have met with our citizens, officials, local administrations, the wounded at hospitals and soldiers of the border unit. Then, we visited Kilis. I was able to observe several important things.
Firstly, our soldiers have high morale. They believe in the operation. Secondly, our citizens living there have embraced the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the state policies. Thirdly, half of the population living there consists of Syrian refugees; they have also embraced the TSK and the operation.
Seeing this kind of unity made me happy. God willing, this unity and belief will bring victory. The TSK is very meticulous about not harming any civilians during the operation.
According to the information I have gathered, not even one civilian was harmed by our military. I hope this will be the case for the rest of the operation as well.
As an interesting fact, I could tell you that there is a [People's Protection Units] YPG-controlled village in Syria near Akbez. Intelligence suggests that there are only several terrorists with light weaponry there. In order to prevent civilian casualties, the TSK has not attempted to liberate this village as the terrorists don't pose a serious threat. This shows the meticulousness of the military.
Everything is well-planned in this operation. In this respect, I believe victory is inevitable. This operation to Afrin had become a necessity; clearing Manbij, northern Syria, east of the Euphrates River and northern Iraq from terrorist elements is also essential.
Europeans have a hard time of understanding the reality; Turkey and the people of this region are under the threat of terror. Europe had issues with accepting a couple of thousands of refugees with the excuse of security and peace. They should try to approach Turkey with empathy.
DS: Would you like to add anything else?
MD: Europe is trying to put pressure on Turkey over three issues. First is the fight against terrorism; Europe unjustly accuses Turkey in their fight against the PKK and YPG.
If the PKK/YPG had carried out even one terrorist act in Europe, you wouldn't find a single supporter of these terrorist organizations there. Therefore, they support these terrorist organizations as long as they do not harm Europe. They have to forsake this kind of distorted understanding.
The second is [the Gülenist Terror Group] FETÖ. Similarly, they would have reacted differently if they had suffered from a similar organization. Europe has to have empathy and decide accordingly.
The last issue is about the July 15 coup attempt perpetrated by FETÖ. As the chair of an opposition party, I would like to say that this coup was against Turkey, its government and people. Europe has to get rid of this suspicion.
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