Parliament passes law boosting status of non-career diplomats

The recent change in the law regulating the status of non-career ambassadors received criticism from opposition parties who call it a blow to tradition in the Turkish Foreign Service, while others hailed it as needed progress that is part of an ambitious Turkish foreign policy.
The change passed on Thursday in Parliament opens a new way for individuals who were a foreign ambassador or permanent representative without being a member of the Turkish Foreign Service to be able to work in the Foreign Ministry and to have the same rights and privileges as career diplomats when they return to Turkey.
Before the amendment, anyone from outside of the Turkish Foreign Service could only be made an ambassador or permanent representative as an exception to the laws regarding public officers.
The change received criticism from deputies of the opposition parties and former diplomats. Their concerns include the potential for the inappropriate addition of politics in foreign diplomacy, political polarization in foreign affairs, problems of sufficient employment opportunities and especially the lack of appropriate experience.
Osman Korutürk, a Republican the Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy and former career ambassador told Today's Zaman that Turkey's image will be gravely affected by this law.
“There is a rank order which enables diplomats to be trained. When he returns to Turkey, the lowest level someone will be assigned to is the position of general director, which administers 30 embassies. A person who is not from the ministry and has only the experience of 3-4 months or a couple of years can't administer these countries with excellence,” he said, stressing the importance of vocational retraining in the Foreign Ministry.
However, Professor Yasin Aktay, a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Central Executive and Steering Committee (MKYK) member, thinks that the concerns about the bill -- particularly on the issue of prior experience -- are unnecessary.
Speaking to Today's Zaman, Aktay said: “At present, the foreign image of Turkey is far from the new one Turkey is trying to form. If someone is considered for an ambassador position, it means that he is as qualified as diplomats who come from inside of the diplomatic service. This law arose from necessity rather than political aims.”
In his speech in Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç also rejected the allegations of inexperience. “The [idea that] the ones who come from the official world of diplomacy will be successful and that others who come from outside diplomacy will fail is an assumption. It is not possible for us to agree on this,” he said on Thursday.
Another allegation about the new law is that it will lead to political polarization in foreign policy and will be an instrument of political interest.
On the issue of politicization, Korutürk draw attention to the relationship between the Prime Ministry and Foreign Ministry. “Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took a different stand against the ambassadors about calling them “Excellency.” The AK Party doesn't trust the Foreign Ministry. AK Party members think that people who think like them will work better, however they are wrong,” he said.
Korutürk also stated that this law is against the Constitution. “According to the Constitution, in order to be a public officer, one has to take an exam [the Public Personnel Selection Examination (KPSS)]. With this legislation, people who didn't take the exam will be a public officer with the Foreign Ministry,” Korutürk said.
When the law was debated in Parliament on Thursday, opposition party deputies reacted strongly against the law.
A deputy of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Sinan Oğan also approached the bill skeptically. Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Oğan pointed out the coming elections. “Are you making the ones ambassador that you can't make a governor? A very important decision for Turkey will be brought into force in 2015; thousands of citizens will go to the polls. Do you want to make some savings on votes?” he said.
Oğan also spoke about the future and said: “Aren't there sufficient ambassadors in the Foreign Ministry? Aren't there enough students graduating from foreign relations programs at our universities? You have to explain this to young people.”
When Aktay was asked about the matter of employment, he said in a telephone interview that new ambassadors won't pose an obstacle to young people's employment as Turkey is beginning big projects in the area of diplomacy and it seems like there will be a huge demand for diplomats in the future.

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