My address on the constitutional process – in Abant Conference

As a bi-product of the massive military coup, the current constitution was constructed, and imposed under emergency conditions, on the helpless people of Turkey. It was designed as a lid on a pot, to suppress all that has had to with social progress, spontaneous civilian politics, fair representation, recognition of identities, of freedom and rights, and of the rule of law.

It was tailored as a straitjacket on the society. From the vantage point of today, you can easily brand it as a ‘freak text’, freak in the global context of constitutions, overloaded with references to Turkishness, nationalism, and an unconditional devotion to the founder, mentioning him by name, Atatürk, whose ideology constitutes the base of its content.

Its ridiculously pompous preamble is a set of slogans, again has nothing to do with law.

Over the past decades, this text was amended many times, and around a third of it, even more, was modified somewhat.

But its undemocratic essence remained the same; it dictated the politics and law; and until very recently, till the referendum 2010, it was generously used and abused to maintain in power the military guided tutelage.

Although some key articles were by a clear majority vote amended in 2010, the current constitution is by and large bypassed by Turkish society, which has in the past decade been engaged in a massive glasnost, confrontation with its past, with all the genies out of the bottle.

Since the toothpaste is impossible to squeeze back into its tube, the issue of a new constitution will never go away. The necessity is also underlined by the fact that, Turkey, performing in a rather miraculous manner in economy, in comparative terms with others elsewhere, aiming to be amongst the top ten economies in the world in the end of this decade, needs a modern constitution, which helps match its economic fundament with a full-fledged democracy. In other words, Turkey badly needs a text which meets the Maastricht and Copenhagen criterias, together.

But the road ahead has been very bumpy, for the ruling AKP. Its repeated promises kept, its first attempts to proceed with partial amendments regarding headscarf met a harsh response, by a judicial coup, in the form of a closure case. This has blocked all attempts for over a year, until, 2009. A draft text, prepared by Prof Ergun Özbudun’s commission was also shelved. At that time, fighting against a closure case as well as questioning the methodology of the AKP run parallel. In the autumn of 2010, after an intense, polarizing public debate, Turkey went to referendum, and changed some 25 critical articles, mainly reforming the high judiciary. But it was, from modern political sicence point of view, not enough.

Not enough, because all the major issues, huge ones, like Kurdish and Alevi issues, rule of law, independence of the judiciary, dose of religion and ethnicity in political and public life, self-administration, identities came back repeatedly to cause disturbances and disruptions in politics, causing a lot of waste of time, creating shackles on the feet effects before a country, expanding, growing and opening. The postulate is simple: Unless one changes the main power house, there will always be shortcuts, darkness, power shortages in all the minor power houses. The main denominator has to change, so that the old problems the current one constantly produces, do not keep reoccurring.

Now, we are here, once more in the midst of a draft process. It has not gone well with the Parlimanetary commission, which more or less wasted 2012. It had to do with the principles of the commission, and also lack of coherence and absent will of consensus amongst the four parties. It has had to with the methodology, but also with the political culture. As a result, the commission could agree only on less then 40% of the draft, and all the disagreed ones have to do with the key issues that will define a democratic, diverse, open, free Turkey.

The current debate has to do with Kurdish and Alevi issues, secularism, dosage of religion and ethnicity, civilian control over the military etc. For a while last year, Prime Minister Erdoğan, perceived as hardlining more on Kurdish issue, favoring eye for an eye, punitive measures for Kurdish dissent, seemed as if he could seek two party consensus with the ultra-nationalist MHP. But from January 1 this year, stakes seems to have turned upside down. Erdoğan extended the deadline of the commission till end of March, and declared that he would seek other paths if the commission fails to deliver. He can seek three party consensus, given the success with the Kurdish peace process, but if the CHP does not play, we can see a AKP-BDP cooperation developing. The latter one is the most likely scenario at the moment. Something we should be discussing. If nothing works out, Erdoğan is determined to take the issue, with an AKP signed draft, to a referendum. Most likely that this type of draft will contain a new model of presidency, close to the American, or French one.

Time is running out; given the impatience of the Kurdish segment and given the regional turmoil, again with the Kurds as important players. The EU may ease its stand, but it all depends on how Turkey performs on this fundamental reform. Popular support for a brand new constitiob is around two thirds,remining unchanged. And the AKP remains above the 50 %. As important, how the other three players will stage their performances will have a defining role.

The main question is, of course, what is required of them so that Turkey adopts a constitution, hopefully a simple and short one, meets the domestic and international demands and criteria, and without further fuss take s Turkey from 20th to 21st century.

(Abant, Bolu / 2013-02-10)

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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