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Turkey Begins Drafting New Constitution

  • Dorian Jones

ISTANBUL - Turkish members of parliament started writing a new constitution this week - a move seen as crucial to ending Turkey's ties with its military past. But although there is consensus about the need for a new constitution, political divisions still threaten the process.

Turkish members of parliament started writing a new constitution this week - a move seen as crucial to ending Turkey's ties with its military past. But although there is consensus about the need for a new constitution, political divisions still threaten the process.

The parliament has started to rewrite the 30-year national charter to replace a text passed two years after a 1980 military coup, reflecting big changes in a country now ruled by a moderate government.

Political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul's Bahcesehir University claims a new constitution is crucial for the future of the country.

"It's really a key moment in the history of the Turkish Republic," said Akhtar. "This country needs a new social contract which would describe the way it intends to go ahead and to make sure that all its constituencies will coexist and perform together without any of them feeling excluded, which is the case now."

The present military constitution is widely blamed for restricting freedoms rather than protecting them.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a news conference in Rome, May 8, 2012.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a news conference in Rome, May 8, 2012.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the document - to be completed by year's end - would "highlight the citizen, not the state."

Civil society groups, religious organizations and citizens have been asked to contribute to the drafting process of a more liberal constitution. The country's main legal Kurdish party, the BDP, is also taking part.

Ertugral Kurkcu, a BDP parliament deputy, is cautiously optimistic, but still has concerns.
"It's going to be very healthy, if all sides are striving for a better constitution," said Kurkcu. "But the major difficulty will arise from Tayyip Erdogan's aspirations and ambitions of setting up a presidential regime. If anything escalates after then, it's going to be directly related with the prime minister's ambitions."

Some analysts claim it is probably Turkey's worst kept political secret that Prime Minister Erdogan wants to create a much more powerful presidency, along the lines of France or the United States.

Erdogan has said he will not stand as prime minister again after completing his third term in 2015. Monday, he said a presidential system should be discussed. But all the opposition parties swiftly opposed any change from the current powerful parliament system.

Political Scientist Aktar fears the controversy may not only threaten the current political consensus on a new constitution but also could undermine Turkey's democracy.

"The system that is envisaged by the ideologists of the party, very close to the prime minister, is more than like a system of president in Russia, than the U.S. - with very few checks and balances and a lot of power concentrated in the hands of one individual," said Akhtar.

The final fate of the new charter - and a possible change to the presidential system - will rest with parliament, and ultimately the people. Erdogan's Justice and Development Party enjoys a sufficient majority to pass a new constitution, which would then be ratified by a referendum. But observers fear a new constitution passed in such a manner, rather than uniting the country will likely further polarize it.
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