Göksel Bozkurt

THE CORRİDOR : Will Toptan be nominated?

3 Temmuz 2009
Parliament will convene in early Aug. to select the speaker. Some are seeking the answer to whom the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, will nominate. More than one candidate in the AKP has eyes on the seat... Following the Cabinet change by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the AKP deputies who are interested in this position are many. Former Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin and former Education Minister Hüseyin Çelik top the list.

And of course current Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan wants to keep his seat for another two years. But who willl Erdoğan prefer? Who will take the number two seat in Turkey? At this point, it is a good idea to make a quick recap of the past. After the July 22, 2007 general elections, Erdoğan became prime minister and Abdullah Gül became a candidate for president. A center-right name was needed between these two National Viewers. Back then, the approach was assessed that the AKP wanted to send a message to laics or get closer to the center because Toptan of the center-right was preferred for the seat of Parliament speaker. He was a veteran politician who had served together with the former President Süleyman Demirel and was nominated for the True Path Party, or DYP, leadership. Since his wife was not wearing a headscarf, this was read as “sensitivity towards laicism.”

Today, the big picture in the AKP suggests that unless something unexpected happens, Toptan will become the AKP’s nominee again. Balances inside the party give him the opportunity. Another balance factor is identical with the reason why Toptan was selected two years ago: that is, he is from the center-right. A similar discussion took place as Bülent Arınç and Nihat Ergün were included in the Cabinet. Influence of the “National View” in the Council of Ministers was stressed following the reshuffle. In such a critical period, it is most likely that Erdoğan will prefer Toptan in order to remain outside a new set of discussions. His two-year performance increases Toptan’s chance. Even a single example is enough; the “mine bill” discussions for instance…


The Republican People’s Party, or CHP, raised hell during the discussions and Toptan’s impartiality was questioned for leading the talks. And of course, his giving support to the AKP in the last two years in some other issues was also criticized. Toptan is most likely the winner. If Erdoğan doesn’t make a surprise bid, the Parliament Speaker will be Toptan again. I am afraid, former ministers having eyes on the seat will have to be satisfied with having six years of experience in the Cabinet.

Questions remain unanswered

In the 23rd legislative term, Parliament got involved in plenty of legislation. A total of 233 laws were enacted in two years. Of 416 motions of investigation, only 58 were approved and eight investigation committees were formed. Deputies, on various issues, submitted a total of 8,587 motions of question, only 4,144 of which found an answer. The picture shows that most of the questions asked by Parliamentary deputies to the government remain unanswered. Parliament falling short of monitoring activities was also questioned. Ministers not answering or avoiding questions caused criticisms that Parliament fails in the monitoring process. Even in the AKP group, deputies lamented that ministers were aloof to motions for question. Apparently, this problem will occur again in the upcoming period as well because Parliament will be involved in many legislative activities in the new legislative term; the first to be handled will be the Trade and Debts Law drafts containing hundreds of articles.

Genç’s humorous suggestion to Evren

The discussion of "Judging generals involved in the Sept. 12 military coup" continues at full speed. Tunceli Independent Deputy Kamer Genç was a member of the Advisory Council of the Sept. 12 administration. As he was reminded that the top commander of the Sept. 12 process and the former President Kenan Evren said that he would commit suicide if he is put before the judge, Genç was quick to respond: "He shouldn’t raise other’s hope for nothing. Let him not wait even for a minute. If he wants to commit suicide, let him… Number of responsible of the Sept. 12 process is Evren and he should face trial..."

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THE CORRİDOR - The AKP’s autumn plan

27 Haziran 2009
The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has left its mark on so many attempts. I say “attempts” because all remained as just attempts. Let’s remember them together: The Kurdish, Alevi and Constitution, as well as the headscarf, minorities, Armenian, European Union, Cyprus, Halki (Heybeliada) Seminary opening attempts. Endless numbers of statements were issued, polemics occurred, fierce exchange of words took place as talks and initiatives were made behind closed doors. Were any put into action? I may comfortably say “no.” But of course, the Alevi workshop, close ties with Armenia, and constitutional changes in the headscarf case may be given as examples of actions. But there is no single attempt that has been materialized.

Attempts that have not been actualized create discomfort not only among the party grassroots but also among parliamentary deputies. And that is being felt in the party administration as well. In order to eliminate the feeling, the administration is preparing for a quite serious move in autumn. And the concern that the AKP may be closed by relating the party with the Deniz Feneri corruption case has a share in it. For this reason, an “Autumn Plan” is being considered in the AKP. It will be revealed in Parliament, be brought to life afterwards and a short- and middle-term timeline will be set. The timeline, in a way, will give body to an AKP road map by the next general elections. How will it be shaped?

The constitutional change is the most important part of the short-term plan. And the most critical subtitle is “making political party closures more difficult.” With this, the AKP wants to remove the risk of a possible closure case and to make amendments in political parties and elections laws in a small change package. A 100 Turkey Representative issue may be actualized. The AKP having 338 seats in Parliament needs at least 360 votes to make necessary changes in the Constitution. For amendments having 330 to 360 votes a popular vote is the case. The AKP this time is even discussing going for a referendum. And the above attempts that were not materialized, they all are a part of the Autumn Plan.

In the autumn of 2009, the AKP is preparing for a critical commencement. But one has the urge to ask, “Why is it the autumn of 2009?” For the plans make rumors of an “early election in 2010” more possible. Is the AKP planning to kill three birds with one stone? To save itself, to make democratic openings and to corner the opposition by a rush election. We’ll see.

- The DTP might turn ‘hawkish’

The “hawks” and “doves” fight in the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP, has flared up in the Central Executive Committee meeting this week. The hard-liner Emine Ayna and moderate Ahmet Türk differed about withdrawing an appointment request from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “Let’s not withdraw it” insisted Türk as Ayna and her friends drag afoot for canceling the appointment request. The hawkish wing won and the request was withdrawn. That shows if the government cannot take any solid stance in the solution of the Kurdish issue, the DTP may becp,e toughened under the influence of the hawkish wing. And Türk’s power may not be enough to prevent this hard-liner stance.

- Human Rights Emergency Service!Turkey’s human rights grade has always been low. In order to make a change, Parliamentary Human Rights Commission President Zafer Üskül has reached a decision. The commission will continue to work even after Parliament is adjourned for summer. “We’ll continue work during the holiday. Petitions and applications are still coming in. In the human rights area, situations that may require our immediate interference may occur. For this reason, we’ll work in summer.” The commission members are joking with Üskül, “Human Rights Emergency Services are on duty around the clock.”

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Parties facing a test of ’freedom to politicians’ in the near future

20 Haziran 2009
ANKARA - Turkey has been struggling for freedom of thought for some time. To think and to express what you think was a "crime" until recently. An endless number of writers, intellectuals and politicians were punished and imprisoned for "thought crime." Political parties were dissolved, politicians were punished, and thoughts that were disliked were banned! With the European Union’s pressure, we have just begun to make some progress in the issue. Even if at snail speed, obstacles in front of freedom of thought are being removed. But is this enough?

Industry Minister Nihat Ergun says it is not. During a breakfast we had together, Ergun took a further step and said, "Politicians have no freedom of thought." He justified this by saying, "Politicians have to think very carefully and then say it so. We constantly think ’What if I am being misunderstood, what if I was noticed by the prosecutor, what if I am taken to the court.’ É The only think we have as politicians is freedom of expression. But politicians in Turkey are the most aggrieved in the matter of freedom of thought."

I am especially interested in a particular remark he made, "what if I am noticed by a prosecutor." What does he mean by that? As the documents with the claims of coup attempts fly around high in particular. ...Ergun continued: "With a single directive from a prosecutor, a party closure case can be filed. But Parliament should decide for a parliament deputy’s to be put in a trial. A prosecutor can pave the way for the closure of a party, the dismissal of a deputy and even the closure of Parliament. If the Constitutional Court had closed down the Justice and Development Party [or AKP] and dropped 300 deputies, wouldn’t Parliament have been shut down?"

Ergun questions the constitutional system allowing political party closures. According to him, this "oppressive" and "prohibitive" understanding prevents politicians from coming up with new thoughts. Constitutional regulations on the closure of political parties play a role in the existence of vicious cycles and the feeling among party members that they are not free, Ergun said. "Serious revisions are necessary in the subject," he said. "Politicians should act together." Apparently, Ergun signals new constitutional changes in the fall to liberate politicians and make party closures difficult. We’ll see. Which parties will pass the "freedom to politicians" test?
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Turkey and Azerbaijan: Passion, principle or pragmatism? (II)

16 Haziran 2009
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, five Turkic nations became independent and Turkey postured to fill the power vacuum. Mostly, this backfired. Eager for independence, these new nations did not want to be patronized and Turkey was ill prepared to understand the power dynamics and social affinities in these countries. Moreover, domestic political and economic problems consumed Ankara throughout the 1990s, making Turkey a confusing partner to deal with. The country’s coalition government changed on a yearly basis, each with a different vision for the region: A Turkish nationalist party representative would travel with a pan-Turkic agenda while a member of Parliament from an Islamic party would advocate religious unity. By the end of the decade, the Turkish military was viewed as the most reliable and predictable counterpart in the country. It did not take long for Russia to reconsolidate its position, leaving Turkey with a limited sphere of influence. But there were also successes. As a counterbalance to Russia and Iran, Turkey’s presence in the region was largely supported by the United States. The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline was a major accomplishment in this sense and Turkey’s overt intent to become an energy hub has since become a significant part of its strong relations with Azerbaijan.

In Central Asia, though, most of the momentum fizzled. This is the backdrop against which a Turkish NGO leader said last week, explaining why Turkey should not allow relations with Azerbaijan to spiral downward: "Azerbaijan is the last one left. Central Asia has been long lost. If Azerbaijan slips away too, it will be the final and complete blow to the Turkic solidarity rhetoric sounded so boldly by Turkey in the early 1990s."

It is important to recognize that the recent questioning in Azerbaijan of Turkey’s central standing reaches beyond the feeling that Turkey has betrayed Azerbaijan in its dealings with Armenia. Many politicians, diplomats and analysts have also been taken aback by other shifts in Turkey’s foreign policy in areas such as energy and Black Sea politics. Turkey is expected to use its pivotal position to counterbalance Russia in the region Ğ to at least protect the existing equilibrium rather than tilting the balance further in favor of Moscow.

However, Turkey has moved on to a new paradigm in foreign policy, with more case-by-case basis pragmatism and new ambitions toward being a stand-alone regional power. Lessons have been learned after Turkey blatantly confronted Russia’s interests in the region and, as a result, lost more ground. Moreover, there is skepticism within the Turkish diplomatic corps about the long-term prospects of Western leverage in the region. The continuing emotional rhetoric of absolute unity of purpose between Turkey and Azerbaijan has masked the gradual, but growing divergences.

Disappointment was the most pronounced feeling one could ascertain on the streets of Baku after the Aug. 2008 Russia-Georgia war. "Azerbaijan is not strong enough, but we thought Turkey had the clout to speak out louder about the strangling nature of Russia’s policies in the region," one Azerbaijani said.

Months later, another young Azerbaijani commented: "Who is Turkey courting and why? It is so hard to understand. When [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan took a strong stance on Gaza and stormed out of the panel with President Peres in Davos, was this passion and principle, or was it pragmatism Ğ and which of these apply to us?"

If the card of shared religion is to be invoked as a uniting factor, one again enters a gray area, as local authorities do not necessarily receive Turkish religious initiatives in Azerbaijan positively. In the town of Sheki in northern Azerbaijan, the only Turkish presence is a school founded by the Gülen movement and locals are divided in their opinions about this establishment.

On the other hand, Turkey’s staunch secularist circles have not left a positive impression in Azerbaijan either. Apparently addressing students in Baku, a Turkish education minister underlined the threat of girls wearing headscarves in university, a comment that triggered a rebellious reaction: The next day, there were many more young women wearing the headscarf in class. "You are exporting your problems to us, not solutions," one diplomat commented. Whether this is an accurate depiction of reality or not, the articulation of Turkey’s influence is telling.

Though there have been successful examples of collaboration in the business sphere, many commercial endeavors have been based on crony relationships and have brought the worst business practices of both countries to the fore, damaging reputations in the process.

Azerbaijani opposition sympathizers from time to time express the grievance that Turkey disregards the real interests of the people by not advocating on human-rights issues or supporting opposition movements in Azerbaijan. In fact, in the 1990s, when Turkey did meddle in Azerbaijani domestic politics Ğ in some cases, using fascist tactics Ğ it was in support of Turkic nationalists that did not have the capacity to survive the domestic and regional challenges they faced at the time.

Azerbaijan has also made questionable choices when it comes to nurturing close relations with people in Turkey. For example, among the ultra-nationalists who are now in dire straits as Turkey cracks down on shady gang-like structures, there are a disproportionate number of advocates of Azerbaijan. Turkey’s domestic power balance has been changing dramatically since the turn of the century. Choices of arguments to make and individuals to liaise with in Turkey made in the 1990s are no longer optimal in Turkey’s current setting. The new realities require a new approach.

Few Azerbaijanis grasp the role the Armenian issue plays in Turkey’s ongoing social and political transformation. And few Turks are aware of how unpredictable Turkey has come across over the years when viewed from Baku, or how Turkey’s various policy moves affect Azerbaijan’s sovereignty. This is why, when faced with the prospect of normalization between Turkey and Armenia in April 2009, negative rhetoric could be so rapidly sparked in the public debate in both Turkey and Azerbaijan. The rhetoric of the two countries being indivisible has prevented an acknowledgement that mutual understanding must be worked on, and has set the stage for mutually unreasonable expectations. Recent tensions should be a wake-up call to various layers in both countries’ policy communities.

Nigar Goksel is a senior analyst at the European Stability Initiative and editor in chief of Turkish Policy Quarterly. This piece was published by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, or GMF, as part of the "On Turkey" series on June 4. The views expressed  here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the GMF or the Daily News.
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Why have the Çankaya and Parliament election laws not been passed?

14 Haziran 2009
A constitutional change to elect the president by popular vote was adopted May 31, 2007, making Abdullah Gül the last president elected by Parliament to a seven-year term of office. Recently, the government and opposition parties have reached an agreement to limit Gül’s seven-year tenure to five. The governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, had previously insisted that his term should be seven years, but has now adopted a different approach: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “5+5” plan.

Although experts on the issue such as Burhan Kuzu, head of the Constitutional Commission, assert, “This is not legitimate,” a political decision has already been made. Sometimes it is quite easy to harmonize law with politics! But only if the government – I mean the Parliament majority, leader or leading figures – say, “Yes.” So, in line with this political decision, Gül will sit as president for five years and remain in Çankaya until 2012. If he is nominated again, Gül may run for a second five-year term.

The president of Turkey will be elected by “popular vote” in the 2012 elections. But how? Though Parliament made constitutional changes, it has not yet passed laws regulating presidential referendums. Although two years have passed since the amendment, no preparations for the relevant bill have been made. Another irregularity is that the same goes for parliamentary elections, because the five-year election term was reduced to four years by a constitutional change. And a new law regulating this is also necessary.

Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan himself said these two regulations are needed immediately. He insists that Parliament should pass two separate bills on these two critical issues. “We have to pass a law for the presidential election,” he said. “A law on how presidential elections will be held and how applications will be submitted is needed. Besides, we need another law to enact the four-year tenure for Parliament. And we should do this as soon as possible.”

The Parliament speaker seems eager because he is concerned that the Supreme Election Board, or YSK, will take the initiative if the required law is not enacted. If Parliament cannot adopt regulations, the YSK will get involved and its rules will be applied. What happens if YSK does not follow the political wishes? Will the tenures in Parliament and the Çankaya Presidential Residence be changed? It is less likely to say, “This doesn’t happen in Turkey.” So, is the governing party making a detailed calculation? Do they have different expectations? We will have a chance to see all these possibilities if the AKP does not take care of the said regulations by autumn.

Of crocodiles and Aborigines, Turks and Kurds

Deputy Sırrı Sakık of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP, was our guest at the Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review’s Parliament bureau. He said that everyone should do his or her share to stop the Turkish-Kurdish conflict.

“I learned something new yesterday and am very impressed. Crocodiles and Aborigines in Australia bathe in the same water, and crocodiles attack everyone but Aborigines. Experts searching for the reason figured out that these two species have gotten used to each other’s smell,” Sakık said tearfully. “Look, we Turks and Kurds have been living in this same land for a thousand years and taking baths in the same water. We are getting married with each other. We are crying during the same folk songs and laughing at the same jokes. Our sorrow and happiness are the same. Still we attack each other. I am having a hard time understanding this. We could not even be crocodiles.”

‘CHP protection zone’ demanded

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THE CORRIDOR : The Justice and Development Party’s inside ’opposition’ move

6 Haziran 2009
Is a "clandestine opposition" evolving in the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP? Is the opposite stance that emerged during the landmine bill discussions being transformed into an opponent movement in town and province organizations of the party? What’s going on in the AKP? Nothing has been the same in the AKP since the Cabinet revision. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ignored the names that were waiting to have a seat in the Ministers Council. He neither renewed the Central Executive Council nor the Parliamentary Group administration, therefore offending a group of AKP deputies. Problems keep occurring in the party organizations. Province caucuses witness fights. The AKP group administration faces difficulties to work in Parliament despite Erdoğan’s warning "People did not send you here to follow-up business." A former minister directly asks Erdoğan: "The fields are not fertile? Why are we insisting on the landmine bill? Is there anything behind that we don’t know of?" A female deputy is asking, "If everything is handled in the Cabinet why do we have deputies?" A group of AKP representatives is seriously disturbed by the situation. The picture is seen clearer now with the resistance to the landmine bill. Since Erdoğan is not addressing deputies directly, annoyance is spreading. And the situation is naturally being mirrored onto town and province bodies. Two lists were formed in Aksaray and Tekirdağ province conventions though Erdoğan ordered to have "one candidate, single list." As the party administration failed to bring the sides to the agreement, members fought in both conventions. Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan had to return from Aksaray due to the fight inside the convention arena. And the fight in the Tekirdağ caucus took place after State Minister for EU Relations Egemen Bağış left the building. Province conventions will continue until late July. The AKP will hold the grand convention in fall and elect the Central Decision-Making and Executive Council members.

Erdoğan, aware of the disquiet, is taking some measures to prevent a "fight among opponents," which possibly affects the party administration in the grand convention. Erdoğan plans to overcome this process by the "single list" formula without pain. He wants to form "no opponent, no harm" new staff that will carry the party to 2011 elections. The prime minister, in a way, has intentions to bring the inner-party power struggle under control.

Why was the charter change shelved?

Just a month ago, constitutional change was on political agenda. The AKP had set up a commission, reviewed some 10 articles and prepared a draft. The AKP spokesmen were stressing the necessity of a Constitution change as the opposition leaders Deniz Baykal and Devlet Bahçeli were fiercely standing against it. Erdoğan himself announced several articles to be changed: "Via the Venice Criteria making political party closures more difficult, 100 Turkey deputyships, granting the right for individuals to apply to the Constitutional Court and ombudsmanshipÉ" Nowadays we often hear "We’ll bring it in fall." But what happened that the constitutional change was shelved. The AKP had no chance to seek any changes without reaching consensus with the opposition, according to Parliament’s arithmetic. So, is the AKP using the situation knowingly and trying to corner the opposition? Is the AKP planning to create the atmosphere, "They are raising objections to everything," an image of the opposition that they are impossible to reach agreement and convey a message to the European Union? Or is the AKP collecting trump cards against the opposition for a possible election in 2010? Apparently, this fall will be hotter than summerÉ

’Israel’s envoy came for CHP!’

The Republican People’s Party, or CHP, raising objections to the landmine bill, claimed that the cleaning process would be awarded to an Israeli firm. As the bill was being discussed in Parliament the other day, a visitor came to Parliament. Israeli Ambassador to Ankara Gaby Levy, he was. Reporters couldn’t figure out who Levy would visit. In the meantime, CHP İzmir deputy Ahmet Ersin was fiercely reacting against Levy: "They want to mark Parliament. Meaning, the government will award the project to an Israeli firm." Levy ended his visit. As he left the building, CHP Manisa deputy Şahin Mengü was accompanying him. The ambassador was there to visit Mengü not the AKP deputies. The two had Turkish coffee together. Upon hearing it, CHP’s Ersin burst into laughter, "It seems that the ambassador was here for the CHPÉ"
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Reasons behind emerging deep divides in the ruling AKP party

30 Mayıs 2009
As discussions on new initiatives for finding a solution to the Kurdish issue continue, a crisis has emerged over a bill to eliminate land mines on the Syrian border. The opposition parties Ğ the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, and the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP Ğ have put on the most tactical joint act in recent years to try and stop the bill.

The governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has had difficulty in Parliament for the first time despite holding 338 seats there. One of the reasons is the rumor that an Israeli company could be awarded a lease on the land for 44 years after clearing it of mines. The National View front in the AKP is offended by the suggestion. But the "deep resistance" has some other reasons behind it.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan changed more than half of the AKP representatives in the July 22, 2007, general elections. Most of the newcomers were well-known professionals in their own fields and at the beginning, they were eager to make serious contributions in these areas, from law to administration. But in time they have come to feel "dysfunctional" in Parliament and consider themselves only a part of Parliament’s arithmetic. Deputy meetings were not enough to bury the hatchet. With the latest change in the Cabinet, the disturbance hit its peak. And the wave of discontent spread slowlyÉ

Unhappy AKP deputies took advantage of the landmine bill to send a strong message to Erdoğan by not attending General Council meetings. Erdoğan met the parliamentary group and even made a headcount behind closed doors. Over 70 deputies did not attend the meeting.

This was clearly a civil disobedience, one that occurred without even two years passing since the general election. We do not know if Erdoğan and his team will read this message accurately, but if the trouble is not removed, small-scale revolts inside the party may cause other serious problems. In summary, alternatives to Erdoğan exist. If the offended AKP deputies are not convinced and not addressed, Erdoğan could have a headache in the future from the possibly more serious problems.

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Toptan: founding council can be formed for constitutional change

23 Mayıs 2009
Turkey has been locked into debates over a total Constitution change. As the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, had no chance to go for the total revision, AKP officials launched studies for "partial" changes.

Making it difficult to close political parties and establishing the right for individuals to apply to Parliament, were included in a package presented to PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The opposition doesn’t entertain the idea. Then, what will happen in this case? I traveled with Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan on the Bandırma ship from Istanbul to Samsun and talked about the constitutional changes in detail.

Toptan believes Turkey needs a "civilian constitution." He said a founding council could be formed to conduct the relevant research. Since he cannot have support for that, Toptan added, Parliament is far away from this target today. According to him, CHP leader Deniz Baykal, who implied support for a founding council, does "nothing" in this direction. What is Toptan thinking about limited constitutional changes?

He says if any offer is made by any parties Ğ emphasizing, even if it comes from the DTP Ğhe could evaluate this. "I will take this offer and visit other political parties. And I can say, ’Such and such party suggested this constitutional change, what do you say? Let’s set up a commission of conciliation.’ I can start the process, but it is impossible for me to lead political parties." Upon being reminded that the AKP is working on constitutional change, but the CHP and MHP are reacting against it, Toptan said, "Let’s not lose our hope at all," as a way to send a message to the opposition parties. The parliament speaker stressed that a change is a must for the president’s and Parliament’s terms of office, adding he would visit party leaders for a Parliament bylaw offer.

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