AK Party adopts Spanish model for Turkey's civilian constitution

To keep its promise to draft a civilian constitution as detailed in its election manifesto, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has made a start to the work on the new constitution, which will be conducted by prominent constitutional exper

AK Party adopts Spanish model for Turkey's civilian constitution

To keep its promise to draft a civilian constitution as detailed in its election manifesto, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has made a start to the work on the new constitution, which will be conducted by prominent constitutional experts.

Determined to get rid of the antidemocratic provisions of the Turkish Constitution of 1982, which was made after the military coup of Sept. 12, 1980, the AK Party is studying the Spanish constitutional model, which produced a democratic constitution after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. The AK Party wants to get the most extensive support possible for the new constitution, and to do this, it will try to elicit participation from, and consensus among, all political parties, nongovernmental organizations and universities, as in the case of Spain.

The Spanish Constitution of 1978 provides a good model for post-dictatorship countries. Having taking lessons from the events that followed the death of Franco in 1975, Spain drafted a democratic constitution in 1978 and adopted it in a referendum held on Dec. 27 of the same year. Following the 40-year dictatorship of Franco, the 1977 elections convened the Constituent Cortes (the Spanish Parliament, in its capacity as a constitutional assembly) for the purpose of drafting and approving the constitution. Thus, the Spanish Constitution managed to secure participation and support from all groups in the country that sought the development and improvement of democracy. Interestingly, the Spanish Constitution recognizes the existence of nationalities and regions. Section 2 of the Spanish Constitution reads: "The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognizes and guarantees the right to self-government of nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all."The preliminary work on the Civilian Constitution Package is being conducted by a commission consisting of former Justice Minister Cemil Çiçek, Mersin deputy Zafer Üskül, Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin, parliamentary Constitutional Commission Chairman Burhan Kuzu and Ankara deputy Ahmet İyimaya. The AK Party has not divulged details to party members. There is currently no text which has been agreed upon. Contribution from all social groups and all organizations to the work on the new constitution, coordinated by Çiçek, is expected. Thus, there is agreement on the roadmap to be followed in the drafting of the civilian constitution: to elicit ideas and opinions from all social groups. In this context, participation from NGOs, trade unions, universities and political parties is being sought.

The parliamentary Constitution Drafting Commission that will be set up for this purpose will consist of representatives from all parties. Moreover, prominent constitutional experts will be invited to take part in the commission work. "Constitution-making is the work of parliamentarians, not of governments. We will draft a constitution not for the AK Party, but for all of Turkey. The AK Party may prepare a text that will serve as a basis for further discussions. This text will be open to criticism and ideas from everybody. Support from political parties, NGOs, professional organizations and universities must be sought in the constitution-making process. There has been a lot of work done to date. There are proposed texts. There are studies made by the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges (TOBB), the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD) and Professor Bülent Tanör. The work on this issue may produce books with three or four volumes," Çiçek says.

Another stressed point for the new constitution is the need for plain, understandable and clear text. To do this, texts of articles will be clearer and shorter. For this reason, the new constitution may consist of 230 articles while the Constitution of 1982 has 175 articles. "The purpose of this constitution is not to instill fear in anybody or deprive anybody of his or her rights. In terms of the constitutional theory, a short and concise constitution has certain implications. However, if you introduce excessive abridgment so as to make most articles ambiguous and in need of interpretation, this will pave the way for easy meddling with rights and freedoms. Consider the recent controversy over the quorum needed for the presidential election. If this [abridgment] will lead to confusion, we must do away with brevity, but be more generous in terms of words. We do not feel restricted in terms of the time required for its adoption. The most important thing is to secure the most extensive consensus on a social scale. This Parliament has certain advantages. The high rate of [voter] participation in the general elections led to a rate of representation as high as 85 percent in Parliament. Thus, the representation of 85 percent of Turkish society will be secured in the hearing on the new constitution in Parliament," Çiçek says.

The option for taking the new constitution to referendum as in the Spanish case has not been ignored. Salih Kapusuz, deputy chairman of the AK Party's parliamentary group, underlines the fact that the new constitution will give special emphasis on the parliamentary system and will have no other ulterior motives.

"First of all, the constitution will be in harmony with the requirements of the parliamentary system. For this purpose, the traces of the presidential or semi-presidential system will be removed. In this context, the powers and authorities of the president will be curtailed. In a parliamentary system, the office of the president is that of representation. For this reason, the president's powers and authorities must fall within these borders," he says.

CHP unlikely to lend support

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) is unlikely to lend support to the constitutional amendment package. Previously, the CHP had stipulated the removal of ministerial and parliamentary immunities for its support to the constitutional amendments, and also harshly reacted to the amendments introduced by the AK Party to the Constitution and tried to block them by not sending any member to the parliamentary Constitutional Consensus Commission. Currently, there is no change in the CHP's stance. CHP Niğde deputy Orhan Eraslan, speaking to Today's Zaman, reiterated they are not likely to support the constitutional amendment package, most articles of which might be acceptable to them, unless any step toward the removal of immunities for ministers and deputies is taken. "We have difficulty in understanding what the AK Party is trying to do. They are trying to introduce a popular vote for the president while at the same reinforcing the parliamentary system. Although they insist on the popular vote of president, they intend to restrict the powers and authorities of the president. We, as a party, have not decided yet on whether to support the package or not. But prospects on our support seem currently low," he says.

MHP may support it

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli is expected to give support to a considerable part of the constitutional reform package. This is because the election manifesto of the MHP contains similar promises. Bahçeli had previously stated that the argument for the quorum of 367 deputies needed for the presidential election is wrong, and he is not known to have changed his mind. However, the MHP's stance concerning the restriction of powers and authorities of the president and removal of constitutional references to the National Security Council (MGK), if they are included in the constitutional reform package, is known. Yet, the MHP is expected to make contributions to the constitutional reform package, from the headscarf issue to the Higher Education Board (YÖK).

The election manifesto of the MHP contains proposals pertaining to a civilian constitution; however, the MHP is, like the CHP, sensitive to the issue of removal of ministerial and parliamentary immunities. The MHP's election manifesto underlines that the immunities will definitely be removed and that the Constitution will be amended so as to ensure that charges of corruption against the prime minister and ministers are examined by a board to be set up by the Office of the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals. However, the election manifesto's proposals related to the civilian constitution do not contain any reference to restriction of powers and authorities of the president or removal of constitutional references to the MGK.

The MHP also underscores that a secular and democratic country should pay respect to freedom of religion and conscience and that steps to ensure this must be taken. In this respect, the MHP is expected to lend support to any constitutional amendment that relates to the headscarf issue. The MHP's proposals for a civilian constitution also deal with the election of the members of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). The MHP calls for re-organization of the electoral process in observance of democratic conventions and judicial independence.

The MHP also aims at making the YÖK more democratic and productive. The financial autonomy of universities is emphasized, and measures to introduce harmony among students, organizations and academic staff are promised.

MHP Afyon deputy Abdülkadir Akcan, speaking to Today's Zaman, says: "We detailed ideas and demands concerning a more civilian constitution in the MHP's election manifesto; however, our vision is not compatible with what Zafer Üskül has said. As a party feeding from Turkish nationalism, we are against the degradation of these sorts of values. We prefer a Turkishness that is felt to be blood-based Turkishness. Whoever feels him or herself as a Turk is a Turk. The umbrella for this is Atatürk's nationalism, and it must be included in the constitution. Nevertheless, we will opt for solving problems, not creating new ones."

Sunday's Zaman

Last Mod: 12 Ağustos 2007, 18:48
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