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December 20, 2012, Thursday

‘Abolish constitution and proceed’

“Where does it all go?” Not a day passes without this question. Turkey puzzles, but unlike some years ago, in a bad way; that is, for all those who think that the economy is not everything and that it is just a tool for stability, freedom, democratic consolidation and justice.

Signals that define the agenda stem from the head of the government. Whatever Recep Tayyip Erdoğan utters, shapes the debate, which among reformist circles becomes more and more acidic.

The latest is his remarks in which he was whining about the current state of “separation of powers,” which stirred things up more than a little. “Sadly, there are wrongs within the system, when we look at the problems,” he said. “Because it was not established properly, you are blocked by bureaucratic oligarchy and confronted by the judiciary in the most unexpected of times and ways. You know this issue of separation of powers stands before you as an obstacle.” These words were of course meant to address the rule of law and express dismay with its independence.

It is not hard to imagine the disillusion of those who voted yes in the referendum in 2010, which mainly was about reforming the judiciary. Yet, if any one argument speaks in favor of Erdoğan, it is found next door in Greece. In a story by Agence France Presse, we learn: “A tug-of-war between executive and judicial authorities has come to the fore after complaints by the government over adverse rulings that could affect the country’s reforms. ... Since September, judges and prosecutors have staged rolling work stoppages to protest planned pay cuts, frustrating efforts to prosecute tax debtors.” And, “The last straw there came when an Athens court overruled a 2011 emergency act by the Finance Ministry to collect property tax through electricity bills, a vital measure to increase state income.”

It is understandable that the judiciary of countries in crisis like Greece or in transition like Turkey or Egypt can cause blockages due to its affiliations with the old regime or for selfish reasons. However, comparisons between Turkey and Greece, with regard to Erdoğan’s complaint, end there. What justifies the rational -- not downright hostile -- critique against him is the fact that unlike in Greece, Turkey is ruled by a single majority party, and it is in everyone’s right mind to ask what stops the Justice and Development Party (AKP) from speeding up the most urgent agenda item for the country: a new constitution that would be a reasonable, realistic consensus that resolves all of the pending issues, including the ones he complains about.

But, also, others from within the very AKP itself  seem willing to join the chorus of reason. Immediately after his speech, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, as well as Burhan Kuzu, head of the parliamentary Constitutional Commission and Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, followed each other in “interpreting” it in a way to diffuse the tension it created. We can take it for granted that more than those three in the party have been feeling the unease others outside feel because every such move confirms the perceptions that there is now a move from arbitrariness towards a temptation for one-man rule. Since they are linked, naturally, to the AKP proposals for a presidential system, defined by Professor Ergun Özbudun -- a Turkish member of the Venice Commission -- as “a system alla Turca;” thus, the shared concern of the EU, as reported by this paper yesterday.

The bitter fact, meanwhile, is that the work of the commission for a constitution is stuck. There is no way the deadline of Dec. 31 will be met with success. This has been confirmed by Ahmet İyimaya, a member of AKP and the commission. Known for his huge optimism, even he now is ready to throw in the towel.

In an interview with the Haberturk daily, İyimaya sees two options. Either extend the deadline to the end of February (he sees little hope even then) or abolish the current constitution by vote of Parliament so that Turkey proceeds further without one, just like Great Britain. He says it is doable, adding, “It will be a healthy, fruitful process, without a coup constitution, and the need deepens.”

I do hope some people pay attention to what he says.

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