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Top court president says April 16 vote made separation of powers more evident

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President of Turkey’s Council of State Zerrin Güngör has said a referendum held on a constitutional reform package on April 16 that transformed the system of governance into an executive-style presidential system has made the separation of powers in the country’s Constitution more evident.

Güngör’s remarks came during a speech she made at a ceremony on Wednesday to mark the 149th anniversary of the founding of the Council of State, which was attended by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The reforms, which received 51.4 percent support from the public, were widely criticized for weakening the separation of powers and Parliament while granting huge authorities to the president without much accountability.

Contrary to Güngör’s statement, the Council of Europe’s constitutional law experts and the Venice Commission warned against a one-person regime in Turkey in a definitive, as-adopted, opinion on proposed constitutional amendments before they were put to a referendum on April 16.
The Venice Commission warned that by removing necessary checks and balances, the amendments would not follow the model of a democratic presidential system based on the separation of powers and instead would risk degeneration into an authoritarian presidential system.

The commission expressed the following concerns about the then-proposed new system in Turkey:

– letting the new president exercise executive power alone, with unsupervised authority to appoint and dismiss ministers, and to appoint and dismiss all high officials on the basis of criteria determined by him or her alone;

– allowing the president to be a member and even the leader of his or her political party, that would give him or her undue influence over the legislature;

– giving the president the power to dissolve Parliament on any grounds whatsoever, which is fundamentally alien to democratic presidential systems;

– further weakening the already inadequate system of judicial oversight of the executive; and

– further weakening the independence of the judiciary.

In her speech, Güngör also denied restrictions of freedoms in the country during an ongoing state of emergency, which was first declared in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in the country on July 15, 2016.

She said the aim of the declaration of emergency rule and the issuing of many government decrees during this process is to cleanse the state of members of terrorist organizations and to protect democracy.

In the aftermath of the coup attempt, President Erdoğan launched a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight, dismissing around 150,000 people from state jobs by means of controversial government decrees.

Also on Wednesday, Güngör sparked a huge controversy when she attempted to button her robe as a sign of respect when Erdoğan was entering the ceremony hall at the Council of State. Judges’ robes have no buttons as a symbol of their independence. Her photo in which she tries to button her robe was shared extensively on social media.

It recently emerged that Güngör’s daughter Gonca Hatinoğlu works as a manager at Erdoğan’s presidential palace, while her son-in-law Volkan Hatinoğlu was employed by a company in April 2016 that is a subsidiary of Rönesans Holding, which constructed the newly built presidential palace in Ankara.

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