Turkish government “prepares the ground for civil war” – Good Party deputy leader

A Turkish government decree giving immunity to civilians taking the law into their own hands to combat enemies of the state is unconstitutional and prepares the ground for civil war, said Ümit Özdağ, the deputy head of the newly formed right-wing Good Party.

The decree issued last month grants immunity from prosecution to all those who fought the failed coup of July 2016 “and its aftermath”. Its wording has been heavily criticised by opposition groups that argue it should explicitly state the immunity is only valid for acts committed on the night and following morning of the botched military putsch.

Özdağ said the ambiguity was a statement of intent by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“A decree that will be used as an amnesty for the future and to legitimise violence outside the monopoly of the state cannot ever be accepted,” he said. “However you look at it, this decree is not legally defensible.”

Holding up a dossier, he said: “This file is labelled a ‘decree for killing people’,” Özdağ told Ahval. “Inside it there is Decree 696 and a press statement by our general secretary saying that it prepares the ground for civil war and that we will not say goodbye to our constitution.”

Özdağ said more than 2 million gun licenses had been issued in the two years before the decree. “This is just the licensed ones. We do not know about the unlicensed ones,” he said.

A state of emergency instituted after the coup gives the government the power to rule by decree. But, Özdağ said, decrees were no longer being used for their intended purpose of allowing the government to speedy decisions in an emergency that would be retroactively scrutinised by parliament.

“When the process reached the stages where parliament was bypassed, the rule of law was entirely put on hold and the independence of the judiciary was purged, they ceased to be decrees with the force of law,” he said.

“They became vehicles for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his authoritarian regime.”

Holding a constitutional referendum under state of emergency conditions in April last year was “equivalent to regime change”, Özdağ said. Voters narrowly approved Erdoğan’s plans for an executive presidency. The changes come into effect after presidential elections due before November next year.

“Now they will aim to go to elections under this system of decrees,” he said.

Ümit Özdağ

The Good Party was formed by its leader Meral Akşener in October last year after she and a small group of followers split from the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) over its support for Erdoğan in the referendum.

It and other opposition groups say they will overturn the changes to the constitution if they win the vote to be held alongside parliamentary elections and pollsters predict the Good Party could take votes away from the AKP, which has been in power since 2002.

Özdağ said the Good Party was beginning to make headway with all sections of Turkish society, even though most of its politicians had come from a nationalist background.

“We are seeing a serious response all over Turkey,” he said. “We’re seeing this on the ground and in polling.”

The party was also garnering support in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey, he said, an unlikely fertile ground for a party with Turkish nationalist roots.

“In one city in southeast Anatolia our research returned such high numbers that we didn’t believe them and repeated it. We got the same result, still didn’t believe it and did it a third time. It turned out the same again,” Özdağ said.

One key to the party’s relative early popularity was embracing other political currents, said. “We represent the national centre, because we have liberals among us, we have those from the left among us. We have names from the left among our founders.”

There was one value that united the party, he said, that of loyalty to the memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the secular founder of the Republic of Turkey.

“There may have been various political leaders in the past, but all of us must unite behind Atatürk,” Özdağ said. “Turkey is under such a serious threat that we need to unite over what is important without being drawn apart or getting drowned in detail.”