Cablegate: President Gul's Term: Five Years or Seven?

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1. (SBU) Summary. Turkey is beginning to discuss whether President
Gul's term of office should be five or seven years. While the
parliament is just starting to work out the details of the country's
first direct presidential election, opposition parties are firm
about limiting Gul's time in office to five years. Analysts suspect
the issue reveals a rift between the President and the Prime
Minister. End summary.

2. (U) On May 31, 2007, the Turkish Grand National Assembly passed a
constitutional amendment that stated the president would be directly
elected for a five-year term. However, because the amendment
passed with more than three-fifths but less than two-thirds of the
votes in parliament, it went to a referendum, which was passed on
October 30, 2007. In the meantime, before the amendment was passed,
the current president, Abdullah Gul, was elected by the Parliament
on August 28, 2007 to a seven-year term. The amendment made no
reference to changing the term of the sitting president.

3. (SBU) The specific manner in which the President will be elected
under the new amendment is being ironed out in a draft election law
by a subcommittee of the Constitutional Committee. The media has
speculated that the Parliament Laws and Regulations Department
requested the Parliament Speaker intervene so that Gul's term would
be decided in the election law. However, our sources indicate that
only one expert in that Department supports this approach. The
Constitutional Committee itself believes Gul's term cannot be
discussed in the draft law because it is a constitutional matter
which cannot be regulated by a law. The chair of the subcommittee,
AKP deputy Ayhan Sefer Ustun, told us that the subcommittee will not
insert any provisions about the term of the current President in its
draft. Ustun said Gul has the "acquired right" to remain in the
office for seven years.

4. (U) Debate on this issue flared up when President Gul, during a
visit to India last week, said the length of his term of office is
not clear. Subsequently, the President of the main opposition
Republican People's Party (CHP), Deniz Baykal, fueled the debate,
insisting that there is no doubt about Gul's term: it is five years.
Baykal noted there is no reference in the constitutional amendment
to the sitting President, and added that no one working for the
state administration has the right to demand "acquired" rights.
(Note: In Turkey anyone who works for the state administration is
bound by whatever laws and regulations are in force, no matter when
they were passed or under what conditions the person was hired.
Using this reasoning, the President could not argue that he should
retain his seven-year term if the new rules limit it to five years.
End note.) Baykal upped the ante by adding that if Gul insisted on
staying in office for seven years, it would create a "regime

5. (U) The public debate reveals two camps. In the first, people
defend Gul completing his seven-year term. AKP Parliamentary Deputy
Group Chairman Bekir Bozdag, and Bahcesehir University Faculty of
Law Professor Suheyl Batum, share the opinion that the rules in
force when the parliament elected Gul should be implemented. Bozdag
said that if a presidential election were held in 2012, it would
mean that the President was being removed from office before the end
of his term. In addition, Galatasaray University Faculty of Law
Dean, Prof. Necmi Yuzbasioglu, and Star daily columnist and
Constitutional Professor Mustafa Erdogan approach the issue from the
legal perspective. Yuzbasioglu said "in public law there are
statutes. The Presidency is ruled by a statute. The rules valid at
the time of his election shall be implemented. Thus for the current
President a seven-year term is valid. When the new President is
elected by the people, he will serve for five years." Prof. Mustafa
Erdogan defended the same view, and added that this is not a matter
of "an acquired right."

6. (U) In the second camp, those who defend the view that President
Gul should end his term in 2012 and make way for the next
Presidential elections argue that Gul's position is bound by
statute. It would be different, they say, if the constitutional
amendment had referred to Gul's situation. Former Justice Minister
and Constitutional Law Professor Hikmet Sami Turk said that this is
an issue of "statute law," but the new law should supersede: "it
makes no difference whether or not Gul was elected when the term was
seven years, the new constitution says that it is five years." AKP
Deputy and former TGNA Speaker Koksal Toptan, and opposition
National Action Party (MHP) President Devlet Bahceli, also believe
that the Presidential election should be held in 2012.

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7. (SBU) Isa Gok, the CHP's representative on the subcommittee
preparing the draft election law, highlighted another controversy.
He pointed out that the draft law presented by the government aims
to set up Prime Minister Erdogan to be elected into the Presidency.
Gok said that for public employees to be nominated for President,
they must leave their positions to become candidates, but there are
no regulations set out in the draft for how the Prime Minister would
do this. He opined that this means that Erdogan would be able to
use state resources -- including his official plane and funds --
during his campaign period. He also expressed concern that although
the candidates are allowed to use the state-run television network,
TRT, for disseminating information during their campaigns, TRT is
under the control of the Prime Minister.

8. (SBU) Analysts are also examining President Gul's position on the
issue. Gul has never said he would not run for President again.
This seems to suggest, they say, a significant rift between Gul and
the Prime Minister.


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