Prof Özbudun, Venice Commission: Turkish Gov’t fighting very institutions it shaped

Prominent professor of constitutional law and one of the writers of a draft constitution for the government in 2007 Ergun Özbudun has said the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is fighting against the very institutions it shaped with recent legislative changes.

Speaking at the Covering Turkey event on Tuesday organized by the Medialog Platform in İstanbul, Özbudun said the government has been trying to reverse the reforms it introduced via constitutional amendments in a 2010 referendum.
Stating that the changes in 2010 were in line with EU countries, Özbudun noted there is now interference in the rule of law in Turkey despite the “courageous and correct” decisions of the Constitutional Court to overturn some of the laws issued by the AK Party government.
He said the court had found 11 provisions of a new law on the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the top judicial body, unconstitutional. According to Özbudun, the government desires to make the judiciary more “subservient” to the government, which places the rule of law in Turkey “in danger.”

The seasoned professor, who supported AK Party policies up until a few years ago, also drew attention to another danger in the country.

According to Özbudun, there has been a shift within the AK Party government towards a more majoritarian form of democracy with more conservative tones.

“A majoritarian drift is a fact,” Özbudun pointed out, noting the ballot box is a necessary but insufficient condition for democracy. “Democracy does not mean the unlimited power of the legislative,” the professor noted in his address to a group of foreign journalists attending the Covering Turkey event. According to Özbudun, to the AK Party, however, the ballot box is the only source of legitimacy.

Stating that the AK Party does not have the absolute majority to change the Constitution under the current circumstances, Professor Özbudun said they are considering changing the electoral system to obtain such a majority. According to him, although the AK Party was unable to switch to a presidential system, the party seems insistent on such a change, especially as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is in favor of a “super presidential” system.

“The current proportional representation system does not give the AK Party the desired majority,” Özbudun says, adding the government is considering even less proportional systems, such as the single-member constituency system, to be able to amend the Constitution. However, Özbudun believes the Constitutional Court may find such a change to the electoral system unconstitutional as electoral laws must reconcile stability and fairness.
Raising his objection to a recently passed intelligence law, Özbudun said the rights granted to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) to request personal data from various organizations is a violation of citizens’ privacy. “It is almost certain this will be challenged by the Constitutional Court,” Özbudun argued.
A legal expert who served in the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission for 24 years, Özbudun said the reactions of the commission to the changes in Turkey have been truly negative. He noted the commission had supported the AK Party government during the constitutional amendments in 2010, but said there is now a discontinuity in the government’s actions.

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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