16 May 2012
After a six-month preparatory process, the 12 members of the Constitutional Reconciliation Committee (CRC) started to draft a new civilian constitution on May 1st. This historic parliamentary committee is composed of three deputies from each elected party -- AKP, CHP, MHP and BDP.
Riza Türmen, one of the Republican People's Party's (CHP) members on the CRC, tells SES Türkiye that the panels composition "is a step forward for a constitution based on compromise," adding that there is a "friendly" atmosphere among committee members.
But Türmen says the dilemma is "outside the committee, because there is a strong polarisation in parliament and Turkish society at large." He argues that it will be a challenge to balance the people's expectation for a new constitution with the current political climate, "which is not conducive to compromise."
The success of this process will "largely depend on the governing party [AKP]," he says. "If they want to have a constitution based on compromise, they should be ready to give up some of this concentration of powers."
Atilla Kart, another CRC member from the CHP, says that the system of checks and balances in the country worsened as a result of the 1980 military coup and the 1982 constitution.
Speaking to SES Türkiye, Kart argues that the current constitution forms the basis of many of the troubles facing Turkey today.
"Turkey really needs democratisation," Kart says. "We not only need a new constitution, we also need a reform package for democracy."
Kart notes that 105 of the basic laws enacted by the 1982 military constitution are still in force and need to be eliminated. "If the laws that brought the military's strict control over civilian life still stay in place, it does not make much difference to change the constitution. The system remains troubled as is," says Kart.
As an example, he stresses the urgent need to change the law requiring parties to achieve a 10% threshold in the popular vote in order to be represented in parliament.
"The 10% threshold is nothing but a theft of democracy. If the Kurdish issue in the southeast cannot be resolved today, one of the main reasons for this is the 10% threshold," he says. "Let a multiparty system actually run its course."
Faruk Bilir, a constitutional law expert at the Ankara Strategy Institute, says that the eradication of the military constitution can only be completed if the remaining military dictated laws are terminated.
"It's easier to change a law than changing the constitution," he tells SES Türkiye. "There is nothing that prevents this process from going hand-in-hand."
If the CRC fails to reach consensus, Bilir argues that the ruling AKP may put its proposal for a new constitution to a referendum. "It's not against any law for the ruling party to take its proposal to a referendum, but it will lower its degree of legitimacy," he says.
Mustafa Kocak, dean of Okan University's Law School, however, urges everyone to approach this process with optimism. "I don't want to even think about what happens if the reconciliation committee fails to reach consensus," he tells SES Türkiye. "Are we then asked to conclude that the civilians are not able to make a constitution; that they are bound to the 1982 constitution?"
But the CHP remains sceptical of the AKP's sincerity in writing an inclusive, consensus driven constitution. Kart is convinced the government will ultimately suspend the reconciliation committee's work.
"The AKP is playing to the foreign public opinion to create an image as to how sincere they're for democratisation," explains Kart. "But the AKP will reach a point where they won't be able to continue any longer, because they're not sincere in democratisation. And they will take their proposal to a referendum, dividing the people."