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Gül’s difficult decision

Under current presidential powers, President Abdullah Gül has to make a decision, for or against, a parliamentary legislation within 15 days after the legislation is submitted to the presidency for endorsement. That is, the president has until July 13 to make a decision on the midnight parliamentary operation of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, authorizing civilian courts to prosecute army officials and limiting the jurisdiction of the military courts.

It will not be at all an easy decision to make for President Gül. It is as if the president is compelled to get hold of a stick, both ends of which are dirty. On the one hand there is the government defending that the midnight operation empowering civilian courts to prosecute military officers is a move enhancing democracy. Indeed, the military has so far not directly accused anyone or any group of conducting an "asymmetric psychological war" against itself, but in recent remarks Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ tacitly directed his finger at the Islamist Fethullah Gülen brotherhood organization with which the ruling AKP has no organic ties, but some very strong moral bonds.

The president technically has three options. He may endorse the legislation into law; he may send back the legislation for a second review by Parliament; or he may partially veto the legislation and ask Parliament to reword the authorization to be given to civilian courts to prosecute army officials in a manner clarifying how and by which court the Chief of General Staff and the force commanders can be prosecuted.

Gül likely will not use his veto power

So far "leaks" from the presidential office indicate that the president has more or less made up his decision on the issue. Contrary to the widespread expectations, the president is reportedly not inclined towards a veto or partial veto of the legislation, but instead will approve it. As he did with the contentious constitutional amendment package aimed at paving the way to the lifting of the turban ban at universities (one of the developments that had triggered the closure case against the AKP), together with his endorsement for the legislation, he will make a lengthy statement underscoring the need to make a complimentary law defining how and where the chief of general staff, force commanders and generals on duty can be prosecuted. He is expected, as well, to underline the need to make some amendments in the constitutional article 145 that defines the scope and powers of military justice system, as well as the laws on military justice system, to avoid any possible conflict and confusion.

President Gül’s personal political history, his commitment for wider democracy, enhanced individual rights and consolidation of civilian rule in the country, sources have said, was one predominant reason why the president is not expected to veto in whole or partially the new legislation allowing civilian courts to prosecute officers.

Thus, while the military, the opposition parties and a section of the Turkish media still hope that the president will not allow the tension over the new legislation continue for several more months and will send it back in whole or the contentious article for a second review by Parliament, "leaks" from the presidential office and sources in the ruling AKP appear to be quite confident that Gül will endorse the bill and urge some further complementary legislation to eradicate the military’s complaints when Parliament returns from recess to elect its new speaker in the second half of August. AKP sources have been particularly stressing that Gül, like the former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, should not put himself in the place of the Constitutional Court and veto the legislation on grounds of constitutional incompatibility. While particularly the CHP has been stressing that it was among the president’s duties to seek compatibility with the Constitution and as the legislation in question clearly violates constitutional Article 145, rather than asking to reform Article 145, the president must veto the legislation contradicting a constitutional article.

Whatever the decision of Gül might be, he will either upset his "comrades in politics," Premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP, by vetoing in whole or partially the contentious legislation or hurt the "impartiality" and "to act in a manner above party politics" principles of the office he occupies and sign into law a legislation that contradicts the Constitution.