Turkey's new cabinet has been formed and was recently confirmed by Parliament following the formal presentation of its agenda before the legislators. The government agenda's chapter on advanced democracy offers valuable insights into the new leadership's road map for drafting a new constitution, which represents the single most important aspect of the aforementioned chapter. After all, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have repeatedly identified the drafting of a new constitution as one of three priority items on the nation's agenda. Similarly, the government agenda notes that "representative democracy must be institutionalized before participatory democracy can become operational."
Again, the section on Turkey's relations with the EU reiterates the government's commitment to full membership while acknowledging certain challenges that the country has encountered over the years. As I mentioned in my previous article, it is noteworthy that the newly formed government approaches the question of EU membership within the broader context of the politics of rational balance of power: "In this critical period, when history is being rewritten in a broad area extending from Europe to the Middle East, the strategic importance of EU membership for our country remains clear. In the future, as in earlier years, accession talks with the EU will represent a key element of Turkey's multi-directional foreign policy. The country has always supported the universal values whereupon Europe stands, and shall remain their advocate." The new government's two key goals, i.e., the institutionalization of representative democracy and the universal values that form the basis of European civilization, can obviously not be achieved without a new founding document.
As a matter of fact, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), a political movement that claims to have ended a century-long break in history, has already made it clear that it will keep a safe distance from the constitutional arrangements of this period. The Kemalist constitutional regime featured a strictly centralized institutional arrangement that allowed the elites to exercise political power and distribute economic opportunities from the center – a monopoly that manufactured their legitimacy. The political elite had a self-professed agenda to transform society's "archaic" and "oriental" culture and alter the ways in which citizens grasped and interpreted the world. It was therefore that they could not afford to establish a democratic system that would allow the people to take charge of the country's affairs and prevent the elites from reaching their goals in addition to depriving them of political power.
The elites thus designed a constitutional regime that would not only safeguard their power but also effectively create the instruments and opportunities to shape the nation. Each military coup over the years consolidated this order, as the armed forces, judiciary, bureaucracy and national education were reshaped to suit the needs of the few. The growing power of popular movements, however, entailed a crisis of legitimacy for the old establishment. Today, moving forward on the basis of an outdated order would merely perpetuate constitutional crises and hinder Turkey's progress. With that being said, the drafting a new constitution represents the greatest challenge before the nation, which the government seeks to tackle through a revival of the spirit of 1920, a total rejection of the guardianship regime's red lines, universal values and simplicity.
It is also noteworthy that EU Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, a strong proponent of working with the Venice Commission on constitutional affairs, has taken over as the minister of foreign affairs while Volkan Bozkır, the former head of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission, assumed the role of EU Minister. The appointment of Çavuşoğlu and Bozkır to key cabinet positions suggests that the new cabinet's commitment to drafting a new constitution will inform government policy. As such, it would be no surprise if the Turkish government engages in close cooperation with European authorities with regarding the new constitution and, quite possibly, strengthen the chance of mutual agreement.
About the author
Osman Can is a Law Professor and Reporting Judge at the Turkish Constitutional Court. He holds a PhD from the University of Cologne, Germany.