Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey's opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), discusses issues including immunity for MPs and media freedom in a DW interview during his trip to Germany.
DW:Mr Kilicdaroglu, you are in Berlin amid a hectic news agenda in Turkey, and for you personally. The state has opened an investigation against you after you said that "a presidential system cannot be realized without bloodshed." What exactly did you mean by that?
Kemal Kilicdaroglu: There is a price to pay for the introduction of democracy, and people need to be ready to pay this price. We are defending democracy. There are those who will struggle against democracy. Those against democracy have a tradition of spilling blood. I wanted to warn about this.
What do you think about the investigation opened against you?
The prosecutor is subordinate to [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan; he is not a prosecutor of this country. He is Erdogan's prosecutor. They thought they would scare us by opening this case, but we said, "We will struggle to the end for democracy."
In your meetings in Germany, what subjects took precedence?
The refugee issue and the question of parliamentary immunity in Turkey occupied the agenda.
Without a doubt Germany played an important role in the agreement with Turkey concerning refugees. How do you evaluate Angela Merkel's position on this issue?
First of all, we don't agree with the deal made between Turkey and Germany. One cannot bargain with human lives, whether it is a refugee or a citizen from any country. We have explained in many settings that we do not agree with this.
What are your thoughts about EU visa exemption? Do you believe that an agreement can be reached on this issue?
From 1963 until now Turkey has been in line for EU membership. Visa exemption is something that the Turkish people have been expecting. We are against bargaining for this. Of course the EU can say that we need to abide by their standards on the subject of human rights, democracy and freedom of press. They can say this, and they have the right to say it. We are also defending this. But to link this with visa exemption is unjust.
In Europe, there is a perception that while a major segment of Turkey awaits visa exemption, President Erdogan's stance is against it. Erdogan is against changing anti-terror laws. What is the CHP's stance on this issue?
All of the politicians that we met with in Germany agreed that a country has a right to defend itself against terror. There is no hesitation regarding the struggle against terror. But imprisoning intellectuals and journalists in the name of fighting terror is wrong. Freedom of expression and journalists' ability to do their job without being thrown in jail must remain. If you start connecting these restrictions with the fight against terror, then it is clear that you are not sincere. Yes, we must struggle against terror, but we must affirm human rights, an independent judiciary, democracy, and freedom of the press. If a country's media is not free, then its people are not free.
Returning to domestic Turkish politics, the CHP's position on the removal of parliamentary immunity has been heavily criticized. How do you respond to this criticism? At the same time, Turkey will soon have a new prime minister. How do you evaluate Ahmet Davutoglu's resignation?
First let's discuss immunity. The CHP's position is that apart from the immunity of the chair, immunity does need to be revoked. This is what we are defending.
But the [ruling] AK Party is not genuine on this subject. Why are they not genuine? Because there is no need to change the constitution in order to remove immunity. There are already enough deputies in parliament. If there is the demand, within two hours any parliamentarian's immunity can be stripped. As such, their attitude is not genuine. We know Prime Minister Davutoglu received 49.5 percent of the vote, that 23.6 million people gave their vote to Davutoglu's party. But Davutoglu resigned not in the face of 23.6 million but in the face of one person. This shows that Davutoglu does not believe in democracy. Yes, a new prime minister will be chosen, but a low-profile prime minister is desired. That is to say, someone who lacks skills and will defer to Erdogan's rule, a prime minister who will be in service to the presidency. We find this wrong and will never accept it.
Will the new prime minister pave the way for a presidential system?
Erdogan, by changing the constitution, wants to create a legal basis for what he has already done on a de facto level. But he knows very well that these changes he wants won't come out of parliament. So he is saying, "What if I set a new election and came out with 400 deputies? Then I could make any changes I want to the constitution." He is searching for this but it is impossible.
Why do you think this way?
I believe and trust in the common sense of the people. The Turkish Republic cannot be imprisoned due to the whims of one person. One's understanding of democracy cannot be surrendered to another. One person alone cannot make the parliamentary lists. There must be separation of powers and a tradition of strong democracy. We have 150 years of parliamentary experience. To undo this in one day and create a presidential system at the whim of one person is something that I think the people will not permit.
Economists are concerned about a possible economic downturn in Turkey. How would this effect political and social life?
Turkey's poor foreign policies isolated it from the world. Today we have disputes with Syria, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Libya, Egypt and Russia. That is to say, we have problems with all of our neighbors. As such, while we are in a tough political situation, we have also been left in a tough economic situation. We were exporting to these countries and welcoming large numbers of tourists from these countries. Today we are facing a major tourism crisis. We will face major economic crises, as there are 6 million unemployed in this country. There are 2.7 million Syrian refugees, meaning there are a total of nearly 10 million people having a problem making a living. This figure does not bode well for Turkey's future.
One of Germany's biggest problems with Turkey has concerned freedom of expression. In particular, the case opened against Jan Böhmermann and the prison sentences given to prominent Cumhurriyet newspaper journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül have bothered the German public. What role have these issues played during your meetings in Germany?
We visited Can Dündar and Erdem Gül while they were in prison. We tried to inform the public of this situation. We did the same for other journalists. Today there are 33 journalists in jail in Turkey. If journalists in a country are going to jail, that means there is a serious problem regarding freedom of the press. Beyond that, there are 7,000 journalists who are unemployed. The biggest media boss is Erdogan himself, because more or less all of the media is in Erdogan's hands. Whenever he talks, all of the TV channels broadcast it. This kind of situation did not exist even during the coup periods. However today, it's as if Turkey is in the middle of a coup period. And it is not just us: The civilized world is concerned. The EU, America, Japan, and a number of other countries are concerned.
Based on your meetings here, what is the picture of Turkey that is being seen in Europe?
I am sad to say, a pessimistic appraisal of Turkey featured in all of my meetings. The ruling party that has created this image needs to be aware of the wrongdoings they have created. The reason that tourists are not coming to Turkey is not because of terror but because of the current regime. Bombs went off in Belgium and France but the hotels there are full. In Turkey bombs went off and the hotels are empty. This is because the regime in Turkey has changed significantly.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu is the leader of Turkey's largest opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP). His CHP won 25 percent of the vote and 134 parliamentary seats in November's Turkish election re-run.
Özlem Coşkun conducted the interview for DW; Paul Osterlund translated it into English.