As Turkey prepares to hold a referendum on the constitutional reform package, I have provided details of the proposed changes here for our Western readers. After President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ratified the constitutional amendment package previously approved by Parliament, the Supreme Election Board (YSK) announced the date for the referendum vote as Sunday, April 16, in accordance with the Constitution, which requires the vote to be held within 60 days of the president's approval of the charter.
It is a fact that Turkey has a gloomy track record when it comes to the Constitution, an unfortunate reality that also epitomizes the antidemocratic turbulence Turkey has experienced as a nation. Unfortunately, the 1982 Constitution, which was adopted by a military junta in the aftermath of the 1980 military coup, is still in force. Despite its history, the Constitution has undergone 18 amendments since the 1980 coup, which have introduced key reforms thus far. Now, as April 16 approaches, if more than 50 percent of the popular electorate votes are garnered during the April 16 referendum, the 19th Amendment to the Turkish Constitution will come into force, even though Turkey will continue to be essentially governed under the "coup Constitution."
Nevertheless, this amendment will pave the way for a new constitution while also ensuring the normalization of Turkey's governmental system, which is itself ridden with serious problems.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) jointly prepared the bill that was passed in Parliament. Personally, as a member of the Parliamentary Constitution Committee, I have been involved in lengthy efforts as of late and would like to provide further information for our Western friends who are grappling to understand the issues we are currently facing.
To begin with, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) oppose this constitutional amendment bill. While it is, of course, their constitutional right to object, the attitudes of the CHP and HDP toward the amendment package are problematic in several respects. First, before working on the bill, the leaders of the AK Party and the MHP called on the CHP – twice as far as I remember – to participate in bipartisan discussions. However, the CHP did not even respond to these calls. Instead, from the very beginning they have categorically refused to accept changes to the governmental system, despite not offering any alternatives to the current system of governance. If they had been actively involved in the process, however, they would have been able to pass their own bills intended in efforts to solve the problems in the parliamentary system – changes that would have been formed into a second constitutional amendment proposal to potentially be brought to the people in the April 16 referendum.
As a direct consequence of this, since only the proposal by the AK Party and the MHP has been brought to a referendum, the CHP is conducting a defamation campaign now by claiming that the proposal is wrong and making absurd claims that are, for the most part, unrelated to the contents of the amendment package itself. These parties have resorted to irrational tactics by trying to scare voters with such claims as: "The Republican regime is about to be lost forever" and, even more troubling, allegations that Turkey is a "Dictatorship in the making. ...Laying the groundwork for federalism." These opposing parties allege that "the country is going to be divided." Yet, Turkish voters are quite politicized and have an impressive historical record in terms of political participation and voter turnout. In short, no political party can deceive the electorate.
There is a shallow and supercilious approach in Europe. It has become fashionable, so to speak. It's true that Erdoğan has become a phenomenon in European politics now, a leader who influences the world, who is hard to accept, charismatic and a game changer. In other words, any European leader craving popularity and preparing for elections tends to hit at Erdoğan with superficial knowledge and a lofty attitude just because he doesn't fit the usual mold, and becomes popular. This is a sign of political weakness. Especially in an atmosphere where centrist politicians feel powerless against radical movements that have grown stronger due to their incompetence for a long time.
Above all, the entire world - including EU member states and non-EU countries alike - are obliged to respect any decision made by Turkish citizens in the referendum. Furthermore, when talking about Turkey, politicians should never be ignorant or base their claims on a single source. Turkey is a country with a dense population and a key player in the region that deserves to be respected and properly assessed objectively. On July 15, 2016, 248 citizens were killed under tanks, by snipers and by bombs dropped from F16s while putting up a glorious democratic resistance against the putschists. Unfortunately, at the time there wasn't even a fraction of the attitude shown toward this referendum. Instead of such an attitude, criticism immediately arose over the state's reflexes in the ensuing effort to purge coup plotters from the Turkish state for the protection of the citizens of Turkey. The country - a NATO ally - which is fighting the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), the PKK and Daesh simultaneously, was instead criticized for declaring a state of emergency and arresting criminals.
The coup itself was brushed over.
If the July 15 coup had succeeded, however, the only strong and democratic barrier between Europe and the Middle East would have collapsed along with millions of refugees, and Raqqa would have become a neighbor to Athens. That's what would have affected Europe the most.
WHY WE NEED THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT?
Turkey's governmental system is not a parliamentary system in the first place. It seems so on paper but is not in practice. The 1960 and 1980 coups, the perpetrators of which appeared on the cover of TIME magazine at the time, violated the 1924 Constitution of the people and turned it into a straitjacket. They aimed to create institutions that exercised guardianship over the existing and prospective elected governments. With constitutions adopted in the wake of coups, Turkey's parliamentary system moved away from its original purpose and function. Particularly in the case of the 1982 Constitution, which extended the powers of the president to a point incompatible with a parliamentary system, the constitution was formed under the auspices that military junta leader General Kenan Evren would become president. Extensive powers of the executive branch were divided between the prime minister and the president. Also, the 1982 Constitition took this one step further, making the president legally unliable while setting the political groundwork for presidential unaccountability during his elected term in office. Specifically, Article 104 of the Constitution was changed with this purpose in mind, establishing a tutelage system that remains in force to this day. That being said, the prime minister would win elections, perform duties and be solely accountable to the people and the judicial branch. Since sharing the powers of the executive with the president would usually include representatives of the establishment, those representatives would exercise a lot of powers like dissolving Parliament, without having responsibility and enjoying lifelong immunity from prosecution.
It is still the same.
Indeed, every presidential election in Turkey has led to crises between the establishment and elected officials, even resulting in military coups. One of the pretexts for the 1980 Coup was the failure due to outside intervention to elect a president in 1979, after 109 rounds of voting. Usually, politicians were browbeaten and a former member of the military or a representative of the establishment with a civilian guise took over this office. When civilians resisted, military coups took place.
TURKEY'S EVER-LASTING SYSTEM CRISES
The last crisis erupted in 2007 when all kinds of anti-democratic attempts were launched to prevent the AK Party, which held 363 of the 550 seats in Parliament, from electing a president. The military issued a memorandum and hinted at a potential coup. The reason for its opposition was the "headscarf-wearing" conservative wife of the AK Party's candidate. "Secularism is about to be lost" was the familiar refrain, like it is today. When the AK Party refused to step back, this time the Supreme Court of Appeals prosecutor made a move that ended in a travesty of justice. Though there was no such provision in the internal regulations of Parliament and in the Constitution, it was claimed that two-thirds of the deputies (367), rather than the simple majority (276) of them, needed to be present for presidential voting to take place. Meanwhile Parliament was put under intense pressure.
Thus, the CHP took the leading role once again.
The AK Party refused to bow to the threat and called for an early snap election. Thereafter, Abdullah Gül was elected president and a coup was narrowly averted. The AK Party concluded correctly that the best way to ensure that the problem wouldn't occur again was to introduce the election of a president by popular vote. A referendum was held in October 2007 and 69 percent of the participants supported the constitutional amendment that allows for the election of a president via popular vote. Thus, the first presidential election in 2014 following that amendment went smoothly. Future elections will also go smoothly because the people will have the right to decide the final outcome.
So, the April 16 referendum means completing a democratic reform that was left unfinished in 2007 because the executive branch is still double-headed. The president is still unaccountable despite having extensive powers. The proposed bill allows for investigation of all crimes committed by the president while performing his/her duties. Again, the president will stand trial for ordinary crimes, as well. Parliament will have the authority to decide to renew elections, in which case the president's term in office will end. Presidential decrees cannot take precedence over statutory legislation The president cannot issue decrees on fundamental, political, and social rights regulated by law. Nor can he/she issue a decree on 81 separate matters regulated by the Constitution that are clearly set within the frameworks of the rule of law. If Parliament issues a law on the same topic, the presidential decree shall become null and void. All acts of the president will be subject to judicial review. Many other elements of checks and balances will be put into practice with these amendments.
Now, I ask all the concerned people including Mr. Lammert; what kind of president can become authoritarian? One with extensive powers and immunity from accountability as in the current system, or a president surrounded by judicial and supervisory mechanisms? Would a president, who took over the office with the help of the judiciary and the military and through all kinds of anti-democratic machinations to exercise all these powers, enhance democracy? Or would a president, who has to win the vote of more than 50 percent of the electorate, go astray?
Can there be a more democratic reform than the one intended to prevent the fragmentation of the executive branch and to allow the people to elect, through two ballot boxes, both Parliament, which will exercise its legislative power (or its fundamental supervisory function), and the president, who will form the government? How can the West and Europe favor the exclusion of a democratized Turkey from the EU despite regrets for having alienated Turkey in the past for having an "anti-democratic governmental system?" It is strange, indeed! These words are interpreted here as follows: "The system doesn't matter. As long as Turkey is not ruled by those we don't like, the system itself is not important." In fact, the West has already confirmed this in Egypt. I prefer a broader view of politics. Some people may be unhappy with Erdoğan's rule in Turkey. They may clearly support the elites or the CHP. The HDP, which is involved in this campaign now, may become a rising star.
These views can be openly expressed as well. But our common ground, the sine qua non, is to be objective and fair. With this arrogance and distancing itself from the people, Europe renders itself vulnerable to racist movements. We are not happy with that at all. However, I believe that the irrational attitudes of EU member states and Western rhetoric towards Turkey coupled with the decadence in Europe stem from the same failure.
Turkey is an advanced democracy, not a dictatorship. The president performs his duties while enjoying 60 percent of popular support with a track record of 11 election victories. There is no single way of life, or a single mode of democracy in the world. There will never be one in the future, either. Since Europe and Turkey cannot move to another place in the geopolitical scheme of things, they will always remain neighbors in a relationship which demands peaceful interdependence. This fact is much more valuable than conjunctural ups and downs.
Please click to read our informative text prepared pursuant to the Law on the Protection of Personal Data No. 6698 and to get information about the cookies used on our website in accordance with the relevant legislation.
6698 sayılı Kişisel Verilerin Korunması Kanunu uyarınca hazırlanmış aydınlatma metnimizi okumak ve sitemizde ilgili mevzuata uygun olarak kullanılan çerezlerle ilgili bilgi almak için lütfen tıklayınız.