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March 06, 2012, Tuesday

The new constitution has a bold owner

Last Sunday, I found myself in a very exciting atmosphere in İzmir. Some 700 people in a huge hall were expressing their views and opinions concerning the new constitution.

The parliament speaker, representatives of parliamentary parties, professional organizations, civil society organizations and members of the general public were all there. Yes, the atmosphere was quite thrilling. This was exactly what Turkey wants to see with respect to popular participation in the constitution making process. Everyone should have seen this community of people who were enthusiastic, interested and determined to influence the process. In particular, politicians and the media should have seen how the general public is taking this new constitution making process seriously. Indeed, this picture has not been sufficiently publicized. Contrary to Ankara and certain media organizations’ claims that a new constitution is barely possible, the general public’s support for the process is not only encouraging but also indicative of the fact that the owner of the new constitution is the public.

It was Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges (TOBB) President Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu who invited me to the fifth meeting of the Constitution Platform in İzmir, formed by 13 of Turkey’s leading civil society organizations under the leadership of Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek. The previous meetings were held in Ankara, Konya, Edirne and Diyarbakır. The next meeting is scheduled to be held in Antalya next Sunday.

The purpose of these meetings is to make sure that citizens are involved in the new constitution making process. The more you get involved, the more you can claim possession of it, they say. These meetings serve to get an idea of Turkey’s perceptions about the new constitution. These meetings have a different structure and quality. The model employed by contemporary advanced countries is being implemented for the first time. People are invited to the meetings by text message or a phone call. A certain number of civil society organization representatives are also invited. Ten people are allocated to each table. Thus, no one knows each other. Everyone has a voting device. The meetings are managed in a very professional manner and the results of each voting round are instantly shown on the screens.

What is most striking is that people can discuss a certain matter without quarreling with one another. For each topic, people are allowed to discuss it for a period of 5-10 minutes. Everyone at the table is able to freely express their views. People try to convince each other, are tolerant and arrive at a consensus. How people discussed with each other in a mature and civilized manner in İzmir made for a magnificent scene. This climate of tolerance that is reminiscent of a deliberative democracy mentality has made me trust our nation more firmly than ever. If only one of those table discussions had been broadcast live and if only all political party leaders and deputies could have seen the maturity, awareness and depth of the general public’s insight. What I witnessed in İzmir was that the will for democratization, which was first voiced with the strong approval of the referendum of Sept. 12, 2010, has become stronger than ever. As it did in the referendum, the general public is now asserting a strong eagerness to participate in the process. It came to this meeting not only to express its opinions but to contribute to the process. The general public has a more advanced political awareness than politicians.

Those politicians in Ankara who tend to quarrel and insult each other should see how the general public sought to reach a consensus in a peaceful atmosphere in İzmir, Diyarbakır and Edirne.

In his opening speech, Mr. Çiçek gracefully stated, “The new constitution can be made in an atmosphere where people can shake hands instead of clenching their fists.” I didn’t see any clenched fists in that hall in İzmir. Politicians and the media should take Çiçek’s words as advice.

I witnessed how people enthusiastically support the new constitution in a meeting that some people thought would only appeal to the residents of İzmir on a Sunday. Yet, the enthusiastic popular participation is a source of encouragement. The society’s demands should be fulfilled at all costs. Everyone should know that the politicians who fail to make the new constitution will certainly lose. Let me end my article with Mr. Çiçek’s call: “The new constitution is a debt payable to the public. Let everyone follow up this debt and collect it without delay.”

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