In an interview with Duvar, CHP group deputy chair says they won’t give AKP 'kiss of life'

In an interview with Duvar, CHP Group Deputy Chair Gökhan Günaydın has stated that they would not take any step that “would give the AKP the kiss of life” while commenting on the new constitution debates.

Nergis Demirkaya / DUVAR

In a June 17-dated interview, Gökhan Günaydın, the parliamentary group deputy chair of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told Duvar his views on the new constitution debates, the possible rift between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the roadmap of the CHP in the upcoming period.

Regarding the efforts of the AKP on making a new constitution, Günaydın said they would not take any step that “would give the AKP the kiss of life” as he thinks that the former's aim is the continuation of its rule, not making the country more democratic.

"The principle of the CHP is not to be a partner in someone's pragmatism, but to open a new era that will enable Turkey to come out of this dark tunnel in a way that will never return, to pave the way for a new generation of politics," Günaydın said.

Below is the full translation of the interview with Günaydın:

In the process of "normalization" and "détente" that started with CHP leader Özgür Özel's request for an appointment with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Erdoğan paid a return visit to the CHP. The talks are important in opening the channels of dialog between the government and the opposition. But how will these talks continue, what do you expect?

Let's call it normalization, albeit limited and restricted. In any country, what could be more natural than a meeting between the heads of the first party and the second party in the same parliament? But with the AKP, an understanding that ignores others was introduced in Turkey. A political party that has benefited significantly from polarization has internalized it and this has become the norm of society. This is actually what is not normal.

The chair of the Republican People's Party normally meets with the leaders of the AKP, the MHP, the DEM, the YRP, and all the other parties you can name. There is nothing more normal, more usual than this. The opposite can be explained as outdated and anti-democratic.

I am not a politician who can answer the question "What are you expecting?" by forgetting the past 21 years. I know the AKP and its codes. We know that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan takes poet Necip Fazıl Kısakürek as an example, not Mehmet Akif Ersoy. Necip Fazıl Kısakürek is a person who says "Our religion is our hatred." We are not politicians who do not know that Erdoğan accuses the chair and the entire team of the Republican People's Party of being terrorists, publishes fake videos, and has a pragmatism that would make Montesquieu have mercy on him. Nevertheless, let me say that these talks have yielded a result for the February 28 case. How long will you keep people who are 85-90 years old in prison? In the Gezi Trial, the meeting was able to bring up the practice of reversal in the interest of the law. But it could not bring about any improvement in the Kobane case, it could not prevent the appointment of trustee mayor in Hakkari. Therefore, I think it is too hopeful to expect too much from this process, considering 21 years of practice.

Let's look further from here. CHP emerged from the March 31st local elections as the leading party in Turkey. Let's take a look at the periods when Erdoğan gave up his rigid stance and tried to equalize himself with other actors. July 15, 2016, the talks after June 1, 2015, and after March 31, 2024. The common characteristic of these three periods is that they were periods of considerable difficulty for the AKP. Therefore, in times of social and political difficulties, the AKP can turn into a party that seeks consensus. Let's not call it the AKP, but let's just say that this is how Erdoğan and those he consults have been practicing.

If we look to the future from here, I think these meetings are a useful process for the public to understand the politics of the CHP. Because we are going to the meeting with an understanding that deciphers the agendas carried by both leaders. The CHP leader's agenda contains all the problems of the country. So the economy is the main problem there. The problems of everyone from pensioners to farmers. Justice mechanisms and their problems. Some cases are mentioned by name, the Gezi Trial, the Kobane Trial, the Şenyaşar family, February 28... But it is not just these. We carry there the problems of everyone who is victimized by the dependent and instrumentalized judiciary in Turkey. Women's rights, animal rights, the nonsense called the education curriculum…

The other side has nothing but the new constitution on its agenda. Now you are a farmer, a pensioner, a young white-collar worker. You are having difficulty paying your house rent, you cannot get a purchase price for your barley, you cannot live on your pension and there is a party that brings all these problems to the table as a problem. On the other hand, there is a tired Erdoğan, who has been in power for 21 years, who has produced these problems and has not taken any steps to solve them, and who welcomes this understanding brought by the CHP as "we need to be realists, not populists." I think that this image alone serves the Republican People's Party's politics. We are not looking for "where can we get votes" but we need a mechanism to explain ourselves to the citizens and we think this is the right mechanism.

You said that Erdoğan always takes such "softening" steps in times of difficulty. The aftermaths of the two examples you gave are negative. Will these talks open the door for a return to law or democratization?

There are two positive examples (for now), but new problems such as the trusteeship of Hakkari and the Kobane Trial decisions have been added (as negative). I am not convinced that this period will turn into a democratic process that will not raise questions in anyone's mind. In fact, my long political life shows me that the opposite is a process that can develop more easily. So, should we not have a meeting because we feel and think this? No, we should do so.

So where does it go from here? Erdoğan has a new constitution in mind. We keep telling him this. The 1982 Constitution is a coup constitution. Didn't you make the 2010 and 2017 constitutional amendments and referendum? Why didn't you sign a democratization that would leave no trace of the 1982 Constitution, when you had the power in parliament to take it to a referendum, and the sociological base and power to get it passed by the nation? Because your aim is not the democratization of Turkey or the amendment of the constitution.

What is their aim?

Turkey has given birth to a hybrid regime that is a model for the world, a one-man system with a strong Islamist flavor, and a regime that sinks to the bottom of nepotism and kleptorax. They are ready to do everything necessary to maintain this regime. This constitutional issue is an extension of this.

We don't know the AKP’s constitutional proposal, but the MHP has made some revision proposals such as the elected vice president, the legal status of the Council of Ministers, and the reading of the government program in Parliament. What would you say to such a revision if they brought a proposal like this, for example, a semi-presidential proposal?

They are telling us to submit our views on the method of the constitutional amendment by the end of June. Both the Speaker of the Parliament and Erdoğan said this. Leaked information about what they want to do does not satisfy us. If you were to list the most obvious features of the Presidential Government System that stand in the way of Turkey's democratic politics, justice, and economy, would they make the top ten?

One, partisan president. Two, the structure of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK). Three, the transfer of the TBMM's legislative power to the palace... Will they bring the abolition of these? Do they intend to change the system that is absurd in every aspect and suffocating Turkey? They say let's reform the faulty aspects of the Presidential Government System. What is their first suggestion? 50%+1 is problematic (to elect the president), let's go back to 40+1. 40+1 isn’t enough either, let's go back to 30+1. They may even propose a return to the democratic parliamentary system. Because the aim is not the democratic parliamentary system. The aim is to calculate how to reduce the voting rate to a level that can be elected.

A return to the parliamentary system is also your proposal. What would you do if there was such an offer?

Politics has a theoretical side and a practical side. There is an approach called abusive constitutionalism. The constitutional amendment they made in 2010-2017 was a candidate to ruin the country for the continuation of their own order in terms of abusive constitutionalism. We all saw together that there was a huge difference between the carrot they showed to the citizens and the constitution that emerged. They said they were tired of coalitions. Apart from MHP, they were doomed to DSP and HÜDA-PAR.

The Table of Six put forward a text with a very solid roadmap for a parliamentary system. What has changed that he suddenly wants to move to a parliamentary system? We are talking about If-Clauses; if Erdoğan brings such a proposal, his aim would not be to democratize Turkey and move to a parliamentary system, but only to bring the threshold to the point where he can be elected. He will create a new regime that he can exploit.

The Republican People's Party will not take any step that would give the AKP the kiss of life. The Republican People's Party is trying to pave the way for democratic politics in which Turkey will be rebuilt with its principles and revolutions, and it is building this through the Turkey Alliance. We will build the Turkey Alliance with the citizens. We will hold talks, but the Republican People's Party is a political party that will march to power alone. We will lay the road stones for this. We are laying the roadstones for the beginning of a reform process that will never return here after this dark tunnel.

Then you will not prepare what they want for the new constitution by the end of June?

Of course not.

If a table (for a constitutional draft) is set in October, then you will not take part.

We don't know what they will propose. The CHP has a party assembly and a central board. I know that the principle of the CHP is not to be a partner in someone's pragmatism, but to open a new era that will enable Turkey to come out of this dark tunnel in a way that will never return, to pave the way for a new generation of politics.

Are you behind the efforts to return to the parliamentary system? How do you evaluate the opinion of those who say that the President should use the powers for one term?

No one, including the President of the CHP, should rule this state with these powers. When the CHP rises above 360 and 400 parliamentary seats, it will definitely establish a system with checks and balances, a system that sets the separation of powers as a goal, a system where the deputy minister of justice is not on the HSK, where the president does not appoint the rectors of universities, where judges do not work like CHP trolls. We are not a political party that will benefit from an anti-democratic system.

Following President Erdoğan's meeting with CHP leader Özel and the wife of Sinan Ateş, the murdered former head of the Grey Wolves, MHP leader Bahçeli issued a harsh statement. How did you read Bahçeli's statement, who also suggested an alliance with CHP?

Bahçeli's walk accompanied by Ferdi Tayfur’s (arabesque) music, the photo of him wearing a ring with the words "Allah is sufficient for me" and his last statement are part of a whole. Devlet Bahçeli says ‘absolutely no’ to the 40%+1 discussions coming from the AKP.

'We are not electing a mukhtar, we are electing a President,' Bahçeli once said...

This issue has nothing to do with mukhtars. AKP needs the MHP for 50%+1. Therefore, the MHP does not want a system in which the AKP does not need its votes. The MHP is currently in a very big comfort zone. It benefits from all the opportunities of the government, but all the wear and tear of the government is born on the AKP. The MHP has the bureaucracy. The MHP gets what it wants done and does not get what it does not want done. It is a partner of the state, but it is also in a position to avoid political attrition. There is no politician who can describe a more comfortable space.

Bahçeli has been aware since the Ferdi Tayfur video that the AKP is in a deadlock with the MHP. The AKP is saying that ‘by not being able to move beyond the area that the MHP has drawn for me, I am breaking away from the international community, democratic politics, and the law, so this is not sustainable, and it is looking at what it can do.’ The MHP sees that Erdoğan is looking at (other opportunities) and says (Erdoğan) cannot leave me.

What do you think of Bahçeli’s remark, telling Erdoğan to make an alliance with the CHP?

A remark that adds up to zero. It is an absurd approach, but the timing of the announcement is remarkable. It was announced on the same day that Erdoğan met with both Özgür Özel and Sinan Ateş's wife. He met with Özgür Özel before. There was no such statement then. Erdoğan's meeting with Sinan Ateş's wife seems to have brought the MHP to this point. MHP said, "If you continue like this, expect surprises from me. I say I am loyal to you, but sometimes I may have to protect you in spite of you".

Do you have a prediction that there may be a breakaway in the ruling People's Alliance?

The MHP's current number of parliamentary seats prevents any call by the MHP from achieving results in Parliament. However, an early election call by the MHP would significantly weaken the AKP's hand. The AKP calculates that if it can achieve a partial relaxation, it can decide on early elections towards the end of 2027. A different exit by the MHP would not mean anything in terms of the parliamentary arithmetic, but it would reveal another political picture in which it would be understood that it is only Erdoğan who does not want elections in the People's Alliance and who does not want elections in Turkey. We should not forget the role of Devlet Bahçeli in state structures. “I will continue to be with you but I will not leave you alone (comfortable), know this,” this is the main message.

How do you read the Erdoğan-Akşener meeting?

I don't want to be disrespectful, but I have to create a real ground. 1.5 years ago, the İYİ Party had 11-13 percent of the vote. We have a leader who has reduced her vote rate to 2-3 percent with her policies. What will Erdoğan gain by taking a photo with this leader? I think Erdoğan is not hoping for a social base, but for something related to the parliamentary arithmetic.

There are criticisms against the CHP for not calling for early elections. Why not?

It's a very unfair criticism. There is a new survey conducted by Yöneylem. 27 percent of the society wants early elections. 68 percent of the society find the negotiations positive. I am advocating the removal of the AKP as soon as possible and the replacement of it with a CHP government, if possible on its own. Let me personally say that I don’t prefer all other alternatives. However, as deputy group chair, I abide by the decisions of the party organs. From my point of view, the CHP is not a party that can decide on early elections with 130 deputies. Only AKP can take this decision. The only way the AKP will be forced to take this decision is if the citizens say "Enough is enough". We want early elections. But the people did not give us the power in the Parliament to organize an early election. Therefore, I cannot create this on my own will.

The Constitutional Court has issued important annulments on the decree-laws that are in line with the Presidential Government System. These annulments have to become law. While there are talks of normalization, did you call for democratization based on these annulments?

Yes. The Constitutional Court threw Presidential decrees and emergency decrees into the garbage. The most important one is the Decree Law No. 703. It was canceled after six years, but the Constitutional Court said that the administrative mechanisms of the Presidential Government System were unconstitutional and unlawful. A 1-year deadline was given for correction. This was taken to Erdoğan by Özel. We have a responsibility to build this. Let's make the Parliament work in a consensus with the opposition parties. Let's take the views of the bar associations and democratic mass organizations into this process with our stakeholders in an understanding of inclusiveness and let's put this system on a correct legal basis. What we mean by this system is not to bring the current absurd structure into law. It is to ensure that this is brought into a democratic order. We are asking you to say "yes" to this and let's work in August. We brought this proposal but the AKP has not said yes so far. This issue was also met with silence during Özgür Özel's meeting with Erdoğan.

The AKP may want to use this as a basis of legitimacy for the new constitution, but we are not open to that. This is a parliamentary work, a legislative activity, let them bring it. Let the Grand National Assembly of Turkey work throughout the summer. CHP will contribute positively to this process.

In his last meeting with Erdogan, Özel proposed a "fair tax system." Is there a chance for an agreement?

This is a matter of political economy. Of the 100 liras of taxes collected, 68 percent are indirect taxes, 21 percent are taxes on wage earners and 11 percent are taxes on earnings. If you were going to make this tax system fair, who held your hand for 21 years? While taxing the working classes, you erase the taxes of the gang of five (crony capitalists). In the Official Gazette, you deleted Anagold's tax of 7.4 million dollars. The government decides who to tax based on their political base. Their political base is capital, it is the working people who are taxed. The AKP thinks that they can keep them with the mechanisms of consent and coercion. Now Mehmet Şimşek is going to conduct a study. Şimşek himself is the actor representing the capital classes. Do you think an understanding that can tax capital will emerge from Şimşek? On the contrary, they say, "Capital should not be frightened."

The shadow ministers will meet, right?

There are valuable academics on our board. They will prepare a report on the right taxation policy. They will put this report on Mehmet Şimşek's desk. This means, "I am putting on your desk what I will do in the CHP government".

(English version by Alperen Şen)