Parliament starts debating first harmonization bill

Published 29.10.2010 13:13

Parliament has started discussing a bill that seeks to change the structure and function of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) in an attempt to bring Turkish legislation into alignment with a constitutional amendment package that was approved in a referendum on Sept. 12.

The bill is the first of a 48-item harmonization package. With the approval of the entire package, Turkish legislation will have been changed to conform to the requirements of the constitutional amendment package passed by the public last month.

The bill on the restructuring of the HSYK introduces changes to the board. With the amendments, the number of members of the HSYK rose to 22 from seven. On Saturday, President Abdullah Gül appointed four new members to the board by selecting nominees from a pool of academics and lawyers. Three of the new members were appointed by the Supreme Court of Appeals, two by the Council of State, one by the Turkey Justice Academy and the remaining 10 were elected by the votes of 12,000 judges and prosecutors. The new HSYK still has the justice minister and his undersecretary as members.

In addition, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government decided to delay the preparation of a number of laws aimed at increasing the standards of Turkish democracy until after the next parliamentary elections, slated for mid-2011.

AK Party parliamentary group deputy chairman Suat Kılıç told Today's Zaman that a lack of support from opposition parties for the approval of democratization laws had led the ruling party to postpone plans until after the 2011 elections. The laws also include a constitutional amendment to lift the ban on the use of the Muslim headscarf on university campuses.

"It does not look possible at the moment to reach a compromise with the political parties represented in Parliament to lift the headscarf ban. The Republican People's Party [CHP] avoids making any contribution, and the Nationalist Movement Party [MHP] seems to be helping us for headscarf freedom in order to facilitate the launch of a new closure case against the AK Party. For this reason, we will continue efforts for the abolishment of the headscarf ban after the 2011 elections," Kılıç stated.

Representatives from the AK Party paid a visit to the parliamentary offices of opposition parties last week in an attempt to seek a compromise to lift the headscarf ban at universities. However, the talks failed after the CHP refused to cooperate with the ruling AK Party unless its "preconditions" were met. The main opposition party said the AK Party should initially agree to abolish the Higher Education Board (YÖK) and the parliamentary immunity system and reduce the 10 percent election threshold.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is also the AK Party leader, said the new government to be formed after the 2011 general elections would focus on constitutional amendments for broader freedoms, including the freedom to wear headscarves on campus.

The AK Party government now plans to focus on laws that need to be modified to be brought into line with the constitutional amendment package. Many laws will be changed and new laws will be passed in a two-step package that will also include 17 EU harmonization laws. It is estimated that it will take at least six months for Parliament to complete aligning the laws with the 26-article package.

Ministries are now awaiting an order from the government to make necessary legal preparations to complete the harmonization process. The harmonization recommendations that come from those ministries directly affected by the legal change will be evaluated by the Justice Ministry and then forwarded for approval to the Prime Ministry and then Parliament.

If this process goes smoothly, all preparatory work for the harmonization process will be completed in the summer months, and Turkey will have completed its most comprehensive legal reform toward democratization since the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup d'état.

AK Party to build election campaign on new constitution

The AK Party is planning to allure voters for the 2011 general elections with a pledge to prepare a brand new civilian constitution. The party made amendments to 26 articles of the Constitution but plans to replace it with a new one after the elections.

Turkey's Constitution dates back to the 1980 coup d'état and is often the focus of harsh criticism because it fails to meet the nation's needs for more rights and freedoms. The AK Party pledged to prepare a brand new constitution after the next parliamentary elections during its referendum campaign.

Also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Erdoğan reiterated his pledge for a new constitution, saying, "We will continue to save Turkey from its chains and improve and strengthen Turkey with the authority and support we will receive from the nation in the 2011 elections."

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