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October 23, 2012, Tuesday

Does this mean there will be no new constitution?

I am not asking the question above for no reason at all. Despite the fact that almost everyone acknowledges the need and even ultimate necessity of drafting a new, democratic constitution, hesitations and worries cannot be eliminated altogether.

Why this pessimism, when it is obvious that the Kurdish issue, Alevi question and other problems can only be solved, freedoms can only be expanded and the rule of law ensured by a new constitution? Why are more and more people starting to believe that efforts to draft the constitution have come to a standstill? Why is the perception that political parties involved in the process are actually dragging their feet not considered strange?

While large segments of society accept that this country should have a new constitution, it cannot be said that they exhibit any enthusiasm to this end. True, civil society organizations (CSOs) are doing their best to keep this matter alive, but there is a certain languor in respect to the overwhelming majority of the public.

A constitution is a basic legal text. It provides the main platform for democratization. The constitutions made since the coup of May 27, 1960 have all served the permeation of the government by the tutelary system. Everyone has witnessed how these coup constitutions destroyed the rule of law, curbed freedoms and facilitated large-scale corruption, making the public poorer all the time. The current constitution, drafted by the subversive generals of the coup of Sept. 12, 1980, is the greatest obstacle to democratization, as it refers to freedoms but undermines them by adding “buts” to the text.

Turkey has to get rid of this constitution. As I said before, all of Turkey's fundamental problems stem from the coup constitutions. Take the presidential election, for example. In the past, every presidential election was marked with problems and crises. There is a new situation for 2014: the president will be directly elected by the public. We are talking about a strong president who will be elected to office with more than 40 percent of the vote. In the event that the prime minister is the chairman of a political party which secures less than 50 percent of the general vote -- which is a very high probability -- there will be big problems between the prime minister and president. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested that presidents should retain their party affiliations. He wants us to discuss presidential and semi-presidential systems. Will these debates make the process of drafting a new constitution more complicated? Will they cause additional delays? Or are they merely efforts in vain?

It is true that the new constitution is not a panacea for all our problems. When a civilian, democratic constitution is drafted, all of Turkey's problems will not be solved as with the wave of a magic wand. Rather, what we need is a change of mentality. It is essential that politicians should become more democratic, that a culture of democracy should flourish and that legislation concerning political parties and the election system should be made more democratic.

Yet the really unfortunate thing is that civilians may undermine the first opportunity they have been given to draft a constitution. This is a far greater danger than that of the trials of coups or attempted coups concluding ineffectually. Indeed, this could lead to the wasting of the democratic achievements the public achieved with the 58 percent “yes” vote in the referendum held on Sept. 12, 2010. Parliament will lose its credibility and reliability if it fails to draft a new constitution.

There is another possibility: Parliament may draft a constitution in which all obstacles to democracy, rule of law and freedoms continue without any change. The spirit of coup constitutions goes unchallenged; the tutelage is raised from the dead. A constitution is drafted, but it is not new. It is just a repackaging of the old constitution.

The public will never approve this. The overwhelming majority of the people will be disappointed. The mountain gives birth to a mouse. Those who choose this path will eventually lose.

The will that has established a parliamentary commission to investigate coups, that has examined the coup of Feb. 28, 1997 and the military memorandum of April 27, 2007 and that has put the coup generals of Sept. 12, 1980 on trial could prove impotent in changing the ongoing legacy of those coups. Turkey cannot continue on its way with such impotency.

All political parties should know that the general public will not let efforts to deceive them go unpunished. The will that was embodied in the referendum will spread to larger segments of society. Parliament owes the nation a civilian, democratic constitution, and the nation will never let debtors flee without paying their dues.

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