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May 01, 2011, Sunday

New term, new constitution

With less than a month and a half left before the general elections on June 12, political parties competing for power are campaigning at full speed.

While the smallest details on every subject, from the most modest promises to the craziest projects, are being thoroughly explained to voters in election rallies, there appears to be no effort in any of the election manifestos of the big political parties, which give priority to drafting a new constitution, to provide any information or details about what is meant by a new constitution.

Every party is promising to draft a new constitution but none of them are providing details about what kind of a constitution they plan on drafting. The word “new” is not enough to give an idea of what the constitution will be like, nor is it enough to convince voters. Even if we know that by “new constitution,” the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) all understand and mean different things, it’s impossible to know what it is they do mean by looking at the information they provide, or more precisely what they don’t provide. If the primary agenda item of the new parliament is going to be a new constitution as they promise, then all topics, including the “crazy project,” should have been placed on the back burner and views and even preliminary drafts on the new constitution should have been brought to public debate and should have been pit against each other at election rallies.

Even though every party is pledging a new constitution, constitutional debates are not even slightly mentioned at election rallies. This will eventually raise doubts on the sincerity of political parties regarding a new civilian constitution. Even if we assume they are sincere, speculations on the kind of political system that a new constitution will usher in cannot be stopped. Debates and speculations have already started on whether a new constitution will rely on a new, decentralized parliamentary system or lead to a presidential system, which will spark unnecessary and vicious debates about the political system in Turkey. There are all kinds of debates and ideas surrounding the topics. What’s missing is concrete and detailed information on the thoughts of those seeking political power.

Even though political parties competing for power are hesitant to share details on what they mean when they say “new constitution,” the issue has been on the agenda of nongovernmental organizations for a while. The Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSİAD), the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) and Constitutional Platform and the Abant Platform, a debate platform that is open to all opinions, have all discussed what the new constitution should be like. The “New Term, New Constitution” meeting -- in which more than 100 academics, intellectuals, nongovernmental organization representatives and newspapers with prominent works and ideas on this matter participated -- revealed once again Turkey’s thirst for a new civilian constitution. Even though different ideas and demands regarding a new constitution were articulated by participants during the meeting, none of them argued that Turkey’s current anti-democratic, uncivilized militaristic constitution, which was drafted by the military personnel in 1982 after the military coup on Sept. 12, 1980, and which consolidated the military tutelage over the political system, should not be changed.

On the contrary, all participants agreed that not having changed this constitution sooner was an embarrassment for Turkey. These views of the participants echoed the views of the average Turkish citizen. During the lengthy meeting, in which different opinions were voiced, participants discussed why a new constitution was needed, how the constitution should be drafted and what it should include. Even though opinions that the promise for a new constitution could be broken again due to past disappointments caused bitter and pessimistic feelings to spread, one point everyone agreed on was the need to successfully draft a new civilian constitution. Something else that was agreed during the meeting on the constitution as discussed by the Abant Platform, which is organized within the body of the respected Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), was the three main topics which professor of constitutional law Ergun Özbudun -- who spearheaded efforts to prepare draft constitutions, which were requested by the AK Party in 2007 and published by TÜSİAD in 2011, and the works of TESEV, which recently published a report on the Constitution -- said should be solved in the new constitution.

In his speech, Özbudun said the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) should be kept under control and that problems regarding identities, the Kurdish problem, the relationship between state and religion, freedom of belief and conscience and military-civilian relations should be resolved, and he stressed that it won’t be worth drafting a new constitution if it won’t address the tutelage problem. Noting that if we really want a civilian and democratic constitution we need to demand a constitution that will find appropriate solutions to these problems, Özbudun highlighted that contrary to the 1982 Constitution, which imposes a single ethnic identity on the public in addition to many other criteria, the new constitution should not include any elements that evoke or openly express Turkish nationalism. Pointing to the need for the state to be neutral towards all beliefs, he said Turkey’s peculiar brand of secularism should be replaced with the universal principle of secularism. He also explained the importance of making military-civilian relations compliant with the democratic model in Western democracies in a way that will eliminate tutelage.

It’s hard not to agree with Özbudun’s three points for a new constitution that will kick off the process to solve Turkey’s chronic political problems so that it can be a truly civilian, pluralistic, modern and democratic constitution. Of course developing a stimulating constitutional text that removes the constitution’s irrevocable articles, which have turned into taboos in Turkey, is another great hope and expectation everyone has. One of the participants made a modest, but exciting proposal regarding the first article of the new constitution, which several participants said should be a constitution that breaks away from current illnesses and twisted mentality. The participant suggested that the first article of the constitution should state, “The Turkish Republic is a democratic republic that is based on human dignity.” A new constitution that starts with such an article will usher in a strong detachment both in wording and spirit from today’s despotic constitution and all the practical and mental diseases and problems it causes.

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