According to the existing constitution, the chief of General Staff is answerable to the prime minister; however, the General Staff is not tied to the Prime Ministry and is autonomous in the exercise of its duties and powers. According to many, the constitution is an obstacle to the government’s plans to end military tutelage in Turkey.
The move to link the General Staff to the ministry has received a thumbs-up from legal experts, who say it will help normalize ties between the military and the government.
“This [subordination of the General Staff to the ministry] was an expected and required move. The fact that it has happened with the consensus of all four political parties [in Parliament] is pleasing. Some political parties had made independent attempts in the past to link the General Staff to the Defense Ministry. That it has happened through consensus is important for Turkish democracy,” stated Re?at Petek, a retired public prosecutor, in remarks to Today’s Zaman.
Members of the parliamentary Constitutional Reconciliation Commission from the four parties — the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) — are continuing to work on the new civilian constitution to replace the existing one, which was drafted under martial law after the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup.
The commission convened on Wednesday under the presidency of AK Party deputy Mustafa ?entop. News reports later in the day said that the parties agreed to put an article in the constitution stipulating that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) shall be subordinated to the Ministry of Defense. According to the article, the TSK chief will be appointed by the president on the Cabinet’s recommendation.
AK Party Deputy Chairman Numan Kurtulmu? said he has defended the idea of linking the General Staff to the Defense Ministry since 2009. “I have also stated on various occasions that the National Security Council [MGK] should not be a constitutional body,” he stated.
According to the draft constitution, the president will remain commander-in-chief of the country.
Retired military judge Ümit Karda? agreed that the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission’s agreement to tie the General Staff to the Defense Ministry is a significant step for Turkish democracy. “The General Staff became autonomous with a legal amendment in the 1970s. With the change in the constitution, the power and authority the General Staff holds in its hands will be passed to the Defense Ministry. In this way, the Turkish military will be more transparent and accountable,” he stated.
The relationship between the military and civilian authority has always been problematic in Turkey due to the military’s constant interference and interest in politics. The TSK, which used to see itself as the guardian of the regime, has toppled several democratically elected governments throughout the history of the Turkish Republic. Since the AK Party government took power in 2002, it has gradually taken steps to curb the military’s power and send it “back to the barracks” to concentrate on the nation’s security alone.
According to Petek, Turkey is still discussing how to end military tutelage on politics and strengthen its democracy. “We have felt the breath of tutelage on our neck till the recent past. With the latest development, the TSK will be placed under civilian authority. This is what exists in advanced democracies. And Turkey will enjoy it soon, too,” he said. The retired prosecutor also warned that there will be people who claim that the subordination of the General Staff to the Defense Ministry will weaken the Turkish military. “This is a groundless concern. The TSK is a strong institution. However, it will no longer be able to claim itself as the real ruler of the country,” he stated.
Petek went on to say that political parties have also reached agreement that the MGK will no longer be a constitutional body. “In addition, the TSK is tasked with ensuring the security of the country in the new constitution, not the national security, as it is in the existing document. This means the military will no longer deal with matters that concern the domestic security of Turkey. In other words, it will not have the chance to interfere in politics under the pretext of protecting the country from internal threats,” Petek added.
Also during Wednesday’s talks at the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission, the pro-Kurdish BDP proposed an article be inserted in the new constitution that the armed forces are tasked with ensuring peace in the country and protecting the country and its people and are subject to oversight by Parliament. “Members of the armed forces cannot make interventions in political matters,” the BDP proposal further states.
The CHP parliamentary group deputy chairman, Akif Hamzaçebi, told reporters that chiefs of General Staff are linked to the civilian authority in democracies and added, “The CHP shared the same opinion [with other political parties] about the subordination of the General Staff to the Defense Ministry.”