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May 09, 2012, Wednesday

Is a new constitution possible?

Since the June 2011 election, Turkey has finally started discussing the new constitution. Despite the fact that people in the street unanimously want to change the old constitution, political parties have their own unique preconditions for creating a new constitution. The only party that had not talked about a precondition had been the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP); however, the AKP, too, has finally set out a precondition. When AKP leaders initiated the debate about a new constitution months after the election they also started a debate about changing Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential system.

In a democratic country, such a debate is perfectly legitimate. You would expect any party to come up with such arguments where the future of the nation is concerned; however, raising the presidential system as a precondition for a new constitutional debate demonstrates whether the AKP wants to have a new constitution or not.

An analysis of the AKP’s reform agenda from day one, back in 2002, indicates that democratic reform was not a priority for the AKP and the party never intended to change the old system. Starting with the EU reforms that the AKP put forward in its early period -- between 2002 and 2005 -- it was in the interests of the AKP to balance the military generals with the EU. Indeed it was a good reform and good policy for Turkey that both helped the interests of the AKP and interests of the people.

For instance, the AKP has reformed the Military Penal Code, removing anti-democratic articles in the law that gave military prosecutors the authority to prosecute civilians during times of peace, because there was intelligence that under the direction of former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ a number of military prosecutors were preparing to open a case against some promiment AKP figures. Thus, the AKP reformed the Military Penal Code overnight.

The last major reform was initiated in 2010 with the aim of changing some parts of the constitution to democratize the judicial system, as the old judicial system allowed some ideologically-oriented judges and prosecutors to take on critical positions within the judicial system -- something which in fact became a headache for the AKP.

One needs to point out that no matter what the AKP’s motive was when they were reforming the system, it was a good move. As a Turkish citizen I am thankful to the AKP leadership for that.

What I am trying to show is that the AKP government is not a government that has a preset agenda of reforming the anti-democratic system; rather, it is a government that reforms parts of the system when it sees opportunities for itself.

The attitude of the AKP government gives us evidence with which we can evaluate whether the AKP would facilitate a new constitution without a precondition. I was doubtful when the AKP said it has no preconditions to writing a new constitution. It went against the history of AKP reforms over the last decade.

Finally, the AKP leaders made their preconditions for discussions over the new constitution public; many think that is not a negative sign, but I think it is positive, as it at least gives us evidence to believe whether a new constitution is possible or not.

From now on, I would argue that if the AKP sees even a slight chance of introducing the presidential system to Turkey it would push hard to change the constitution.

As an educated Turkish citizen, I see that the presidential system would not work for an unsettled society like Turkey. However, if it were the precondition before the writing of a fully democratic constitution, I would support the AKP to write a totally new constitution. Before the AKP put a precondition on the writing of a new constitution I was totally hopeless, but now I see some light at the end of the tunnel as far as the new constitution is concerned.

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