TURKEY: ON THE TRACK OF RADICAL CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana has been analyzing the Turkish political system and the efforts of the Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan to reform the Turkish constitution. The most interesting sections of the analysis are given below:

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana has been analyzing the Turkish political system and the efforts of the Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan to reform the Turkish constitution. The most interesting sections of the analysis are given below:

The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayib Erdogan declared last week that he is planning to reform the parliamentary system in Turkey. It should become similar to the American system, which is characterized by great power in the hands of the president. The reform of the Turkish presidential system with great power represents a great blow to the military hierarchy, possessing large autonomy and authorizations that go well beyond those of the president of the country or the prime minister.
The Turkish army has had on the basis of wide authorizations it has received, a great influence on the Turkish political life and has by now already three times (1961, 1970 and 1980) intervened with the politics and toppled the legitimately elected government. Most recently the army intervened in 1997 when they indirectly through the Constitutional Court forced the Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan to resign.
The present attempt to reform the constitution is not the first one in the history of modern Turkey. Thus, Turgut Ozal and especially Suleyman Demirel in the middle of the 1990’s advocated the reform of the Turkish presidential system. The army accused Demirel of wanting to reduce the role of the parliament and responded by demanding a referendum. Perhaps the greatest advocate of the constitutional reform was Mesud Yilmaz, who was as Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the negotiations with the European Union. Yilmaz was aware of the fact that without reform and without defining the role of the army, the entry into the EU cannot be accomplished, since the army has to be under total civilian supervision.


THE TURKISH CONSTITUTIONAL ORDER

The main characteristic of the Turkish constitutional order lies in the fact that the state is in constant state of readiness to confront the enemies of secularism and in the enforcement of Turkish nationalism, a point that serves as the main pillar of the Turkish state and identity. The Turkish nationalism wishes to erase (in)famous Turkish Ottoman heritage and is denying the existence of other nationalities or ethnical groups. On the basis of this they had already exiled and / or killed a million of Orthodox Armenians. Later on, the Kurds were denied the right to self-determination as Kurds and the Turkish authorities classified them as the Mountain Turks. The same rule applied also to half a million of Arabs in the Province of Iskenderun in the Hatai Region. Thus, Turkey forcibly became a one-nation state with an identity crisis, where the identity was being searched for between the secularism of Ataturk, defended by the army and the Ottoman heritage (islam) that has by now already several times surfaced in a form of Islamist parties.


THE HISTORY OF TURKISH CONSTITUTION

First attempts to introduce the Ottoman constitution reach back to the times of Sultan Selim III (1789 - 1807). The Ottoman Empire was then found under the influence of the French Revolution, which meant readiness to a new European order. In the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan possessed an absolute power. The first constitution was called »The Fundamental Law« and was received on December 3rd 1876. »The Fundamental Law« included 12 chapters and 119 articles, mostly taken from Russian and Belgian constitution. This Law was received during the reign of Abdulhamid II, who was deposed on Deccember 7th 1908 and who prevented the application of the law until the year 1906. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire and establishment of the Republic of Turkey was on the ruins of its forerunner in November 1922 adopted a new constitution, which was formed in the image of the Swiss constitution. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was on the 29th of October 1923 chosen as the President of Turkey, who officially terminated the Ottoman Empire. On March the 3rd 1924, Ataturk published an edict separating religion and state. This represented a historical milestone between the old and the new pro-European Turkey. First interference with the constitution occurred on the 27th of May 1961, when the army bloodily deposed the Democratic Party, which came to power after more than two decades of Ataturk’s People’s Republican Party rule. The Democratic Party was accused of an attempt to islamize the state and to destroy the heritage of Ataturk. The president of the country Jelal Bayar, the prime minister Adnan Menders and the chairman of the parliament Refik Kultan were all condemned to death. Later on, the Turkish army intervened twice more, for the last time in September 1980, when the general Kene Evrin overthrew the legitimate government and later on became the President of Turkey. The present Turkish constitution was written in the period of Kenan Evrin, in the year 1982. This constitution recognized a limited amount of human rights; nevertheless the pro-reform constitutional judge Sami Saljuk declared after the constitution was approved that it represents an ordinary political report on the torture of citizens. The 1982 Constitution is repeating the introductory text of the document stating that Kemal Ataturk is an immortal hero, while its second amendment is defining Turkey as a secular state. It was this, the 2nd amendment on the basis of which in 1997 Prime Minister Erbakan was ousted. The constitution is also including regulations on the unity of Turkish Republic and a prohibition for the minorities to use their own language and culture. Officially, no minorities are recognized in Turkey, there are only so called Turkish dialects. In the nineties of the previous century President Turgut Ozal was attempting to solve this problematic. Finnally, in August 2002 Turkey, after the EU pressure, allowed the unofficial use of other dialects, among others the Kurdish, in the daily life of the Turks. Turkey did not have the courage to recognize the mentioned nationalities and their languages, with which injustice was done not only to the citizens, but also to sciences, such as philology and history among others.


THE CONSTITUTIONAL INSTITUTIONS

  1. The National Assembly of the Republic of Turkey is composed of 550 deputies chosen according to a proportional election system for a mandate of five years.

  2. The President of the Turkish Republic is elected from among the members of the National Assembly with a 2/3 majority. The President appoints the Prime Minister and officially serves as the Chief Commander of the Armed Forces (through the function of a President of the National Security Council).

  3. Premier is appointed from the winning party (or coalition) for a mandate of five years by the President.

  4. The Constitutional Court is composed of 11 regular and four reserve members, chosen by the President of the country from among civil and military judges. The Constitutional Court is playing a very important role, while the judges are mostly under the military influence due to the presence of five military judges within its ranks. The Constitutional Court in 1997 toppled premier Erbakan exactly on the basis of a recommendation from the constitutional judges from military ranks.

  5. The National Security Council is the strongest organ in the Turkish state and possesses an unlimited power over every development in the country: interior and foreign policy, defense, economy, culture, etc. We could be talking of a state within a state or a parallel government with the above mentioned other branches of the government. It is composed of the Chief of Staff and other four Commanders of the Turkish Army branches (air-force, infantry, navy and gendarmerie), Premier, Ministers of defense, interior and foreign affairs. The President of the country is a President of the National Security Council, which is actually an instrument of the army to interfere with all the questions and details within the country. The mentioned influence is familiar to all the citizens of Turkey irrespective of different interpretations and definitions of this totalitarian body, supported by the Turkish constitution. It is this exact army that is most strongly through the Council influencing the political and economic development of Turkey, and it is the Council that is representing a stumbling-block and an obstacle to the entry of Turkey into EU, which was also put on paper by the EU in the annual 2000 report. The unsolved question of Cyprus is also deriving from the mentioned role of the army, despite the efforts of the UN, EU and premier Erdogan to solve the Cyprus question on the basis of a UN February 2003 plan.

According to the opinion of the International Institute IFIMES the efforts of the premier Erdogan deserve praise. Even more so, the premier should be further encouraged in his efforts to reform the constitution. The changes in the constitution in themselves should not focus solely on the role of the president of the country; a reform of the constitutional court is also needed in order to prevent the election of judges from the military. Greater powers in the hands of the president would at the same time represent a reduction of military jurisdiction in Turkey that at the first sight appears to be a democratic state with permanent internal emergency measurements. The change of Turkish constitution is a significant step towards a reform of the Turkish democracy that was tolerated by the West in the past. Turkey played in the »Cold War« a historical role for a defense of the West because it was bordering on the southern parts of the former USSR. Today, the same northern neighbors of Turkey represent a part of a democratic world and are active members of the »Anti-terrorist Coalition« and the »Iraqi Freedom Coalition« and without second thought allowed the Allies to use their bases, while Turkey received only a role of a passive observer.

Reforms are in the interest of Turkey due to two reasons:

  1. With this it can enter in a more recognizable fashion and more realistically into the process of the Middle East democratization as the only Islamic state that is a member of NATO and with a directly and democratically elected parliament. The Turkish system in its present form cannot represent a model for other Islamic states (such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc.) on their path of reforms and approaching the parliamentary democracy.

  2. It is in the interest of Turkey to join the EU as soon as possible, despite the fact that Turkey is like a tree growing in Asia with only one branch in Europe (as said by Vallery Giscard d’Estaign, President of the EU Future Convention).

According to the opinion of the International Institute IFIMES, entering of Turkey would represent a historical opportunity to solve the economic problems of 60 million Turks. Turkey has to be aware of the fact that time is not working in its favor and that some processes will go on irrespective of whether Turkey will participate in them or not.
Turkey can become a bridge connecting Europe and the Middle East in political and also in economic sense. Now it is the turn of the pragmatic premier Erdogan, who is supported by the parliament, U.S.A. and the EU, especially by the President of the European Commission Roman Prodi, who by the end of his mandate wishes to join to the EU a unified Cyprus and to prepare Turkey for the entry by the year 2007 (alongside Croatia and other membership candidates).