Looking at TÜSİAD’s past, it is obvious that taking a step back is more consistent with the association’s practices. I really don’t think there is anything surprising about that. What I wonder about is why TÜSİAD touched a nerve and then took the pressure off.
Anyone even somewhat familiar with Turkey’s recent past knows that touching a public nerve will not facilitate the effort to draft a new constitution or to expand civilian control. We’ve seen nerves excited many times in the past only to make an existing problem even worse. In this way, debates have erupted and people disputed formalities and symbols instead of the gist of the matter. Similarly, TÜSİAD’s proposal to change the first three articles of the Constitution, which are unchangeable, instantly turned the issue into a different debate.
Obviously no country should have a constitutional clause that prohibits making changes or even suggesting changes to an article. But TÜSİAD brought the issue up in a manner that was sure to irritate certain groups of people, pushing the debate in a completely different direction. I’m not saying this was TÜSİAD’s intention, but there is no doubt it led the debate over a new civilian constitution, the main expectation of the people, into a quagmire.
The biggest expectation of the 58 percent of people who voted for a referendum held on Sept. 12 of last year regarding a constitutional amendment package and the significant number of people who even though they wanted a civilian constitution voted against so as to not support the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was the preparation of a new civilian constitution. That is because civilian power still does not have a complete legal basis in Turkey. Only elected officials, and in particular Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, are able to show more determination than in the past.
Turkey today has a government that came to power with 47 percent of the vote, that has the majority of seats in Parliament, and a prime minister who does not let others meddle in the affairs of the government. We may think this makes Turkey more civilian-controlled and free from tutelage, but we don’t know how long this will last. No one can guarantee the country won’t regress down the line when an era of weak governments and coalitions begins. It is imperative that we not forget how Turkey became a completely different country after the death of President Turgut Özal in 1993 and how all the improvements made in the area of civilian authority were lost.
Therefore, what I am saying is that Turkey has not eliminated the regime of tutelage in an institutionalized manner or on a legal basis. The current expansion of civilian authority relies on the strong character of Prime Minister Erdoğan and strong parliamentary support. It is a must to give this expansion a legal ground. The Sept. 12 referendum was an important stage in building this ground, and we passed it. But we need to do more.
Certainly, the most important step that will make Erdoğan a historic person is the ability to make Turkey a civilian republic on a legal basis.