Political Parties and Constitution Making Before the 2015 Elections in Turkey

Political Parties and Constitution Making Before the 2015 Elections in Turkey

Abstract

On the eve of the 2015 parliamentary elections, political parties, which have a potential to gain seats in the parliament, have manifested their declarations and presented their frameworks for the new constitution. In line with the election declarations, it is safe to argue that fragmentation of Turkish politics seems to persist although the need for a new constitution is still existent. This study argues that for the new constitution to produce stability and democracy there should be four necessary conditions, which are grassroots support, efficient checks and balance mechanisms, absence of military and judiciary’s shadow over civilian politics and settlement of the Kurdish question. Nevertheless, the research on the political parties’ election manifestos shows that the current situation of Turkish politics does not promise any light at the end of the tunnel regarding the making of a new constitution.  The primary reason for this conclusion is the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi’s (Justice and Development Party) (AKP) bid for presidential system, which brings an authoritarian regime to the mind of the non-AKP voters. Thus, containing the AKP and Erdoğan appears a mutual interest of the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People’s Party) (CHP), the Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (Nationalist Movement Party) (MHP) and the Halkların Demokratik Partisi (Peoples’ Democratic Party) (HDP). Nevertheless, it would be too optimistic to expect that fear of authoritarianism could suffice to create a strong bloc to make a new constitution due to the uncompromising standpoint of the MHP in the solution of Kurdish question. Furthermore, it would not be wrong to argue that an anti-AKP block will exclude 45-50% per cent of society and the new constitution would lack the backing of a significant part of Turkish society. Therefore, anti-AKP bloc could prevent a civilian authoritarianism to dominate the political system but fails to produce a large scale consensus and to settle the Kurdish Question for the new constitution.

Introduction

There is a consensus among academics, journalists, politicians and NGO representatives in Turkey to replace the current, anti-democratic 1982 constitution. In addition to the discontent of several sections of society, Sami Selçuk, Former Head of the Turkish Supreme Court of Appeals, criticises the technical deficits of the constitution-making process. According to Selçuk, the 1982 Constitution is not legitimate since those who prepared it were appointed by the Junta of the 1980 coup d’état, the constitution-making process was closed to public debate and there was a unilateral propaganda at the time. Moreover, the continuation of the military regime was presented as the only option if the draft constitution was not approved. Finally, the secret ballot principle was damaged by the transparent envelopes used during the voting process. Building on these assumptions, Selçuk posits that Turkey is a state which has a constitution but is not a constitutional state.[1]

Political parties’ enthusiasm for a new constitution had branded its stamp on the election campaigns prior to the parliamentary elections in 2011. All of the political parties that had seats in the parliament promised to redraft the constitution. They kept their promises and a commission was formed after the elections. Nevertheless, the commission collapsed due to the resignation of Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek and withdrawal of Justice and Development Party members. Since then, each party has turned back to its own political agenda instead of focusing on building a coalition for the new Constitution.

On the eve of the 2015 parliamentary elections, political parties, which have a potential to gain seats in the parliament, have manifested their declarations and presented their frameworks for the new constitution. In line with the election declarations, it is safe to argue that fragmentation of Turkish politics seems to persist although the need for a new constitution is still existent. This study aims to explore the potential of making a new constitution by examining the election manifestos of political parties presumably to be represented in the parliament. In doing so, a framework stemming from the previous experiences of constitution making will be presented in order to make a comparative analysis.

Problematic Patterns of Turkey’s Constitutions

Absence of grassroots support, consequentially resulting in fragile constitutions, is the first problem that emerges throughout both Ottoman and Turkish history. For example, the 1876 Constitution was the product of elite negotiation and became legal after an agreement between the Sultan, military, and intellectuals. Similarly, people were given little influence in the constitution-making processes of 1924, 1961, and 1982. Limited influence was justified by extraordinary conditions such as the founding of the Republic and military interventions. This limited role prevented people from genuinely embracing the constitution and their exclusion subsequently caused alienation.

The second problematic pattern is the civilian governments’ authoritarian tendencies and arbitrary policies. This pattern is observed during the single party regime and Demokrat Parti (Democrat Party) (DP) governments that acted within the framework of the 1924 Constitution, which did not provide systemic constraints on executive authority. In other words, the 1924 Constitution paved the way for arbitrary governments to consolidate their position. For example, while the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People’s Party) (CHP) banned the opposition parties until 1945, the DP also restricted the activities of opposition parties and used public sources to keep its power. Therefore, for a new constitution to be stable and democratic, it should provide efficient checks and balances on governments’ actions to preserve the rule of law principle, which is necessary for a consolidated democracy.

The 1961 and 1982 constitutions created the third pattern by leaving autonomous space for military and judicial bodies, thus restricting the democratically elected governments’ policy-making room for manoeuvre. For example, the National Security Council acted as a shadow cabinet and routinely intervened into the politics while the Constitutional Court nullified governmental decisions numerous times since the approval of 1961 Constitution.

The final pattern that prevented the previous constitutions to produce democratic stability in Turkey is that the constitutional philosophy is based on the concept of a unitary nation-state. In other words, constitutions have ignored the ethnic diversity in the country and have not addressed minority rights within an ethnic context. As a result of this, Turkey faced the emergence of Kurdish nationalism beginning from 1980s, accompanied by rising violence of the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistani (Kurdistan’s Workers Party) (PKK). In other words, constitutional guarantees have sanctified the unitary nation-state and triggered many problems such as terrorism, banning Kurdish political parties, and restriction of fundamental freedoms.

In sum, one can argue that for the new constitution to produce stability and democracy for Turkey there should be four necessary conditions, which are grassroots support, efficient checks and balance mechanisms, absence of military and judiciary’s shadow over civilian politics and settlement of the Kurdish question.[2] Thus, examining the political parties’ attitudes towards these points is required in order to make an assessment on the potential outcomes of the new constitution.

Diverging Paths

It is safe to argue that there is a consensus on the need for a new constitution. Thus, one can argue that the new constitution will not be confined to elite negotiation.  However, for a new constitution to fulfil the first condition of a durable constitution, which is grassroots support, a consensus on other problematic points is required to the greatest extent possible.

It is not uncommon to assume that the civilian authoritarianism, which is the second problematic pattern, is the most debated issue among the political parties. After Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became president in August 2014, the possible establishment of an ‘a-la-turca’ presidential system has been speculated by the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party) (AKP) elite and Erdoğan himself. According to the AKP’s election manifesto, the executive body, which is shared by presidency and prime ministry, ought to be re-designed. Although the details of presidential system are not comprehensively discussed in the manifesto, it is predicted that legislative and executive bodies will separately exist. However, president will be fully responsible for the executive affairs instead of the cabinet approved by the parliament. According to Erdoğan, the existing parliamentary government system inevitably produces weak coalition governments and instability in decision making process. Therefore, it should be replaced by presidential system, which will be a model peculiar to Turkey.[3] That is why Kalaycıoğlu calls this proposed system “a la turca.”[4]

The presidential system proposal of the AKP might produce two possible scenarios. First, there might be a contradiction between the executive and legislative bodies, namely between president and the parliament. This scenario might decrease the efficiency of the executive body but effectively checks and balances the government. On the other hand, the second scenario includes the possibility of perfect harmony between the president and the majority of the parliament. This scenario might pave the way of efficient decision making for the executive body but decreases parliamentary control over the implementations of the executive power. Building on these scenarios, one resorts to judicial checks on the executive branch. According to the AKP declaration, the judiciary should act in neutrality and independence. This means that the executive is not immune from judicial decisions. Nonetheless, the term ‘democratic control’ is deliberately used in the declaration in order to imply that judiciary is not an absolute authority. Furthermore, there is no concrete definition of what ‘democratic control’ means and which institution is responsible for it.

That is why the AKP’s enthusiasm to create an a la turca presidential system drew the ire of other political parties in Turkey. The CHP, the Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (Nationalist Movement Party) (MHP) and the Halkların Demokratik Partisi (Peoples’ Democratic Party) (declared their objection towards the presidential system. Furthermore, they promised to restrict the authority of the president and to empower the parliamentary system. As discussed previously, opposition parties view the AKP’s presidential system proposal as a strategy to build a civilian authoritarianism, which is highlighted as the second pattern undermining the durability of Turkey’s previous constitutions such as 1924 Constitution.

The third pattern of failure in constitution making history of Turkey is the tutelage of the military and the judiciary bureaucracy over the civilian politics. It can be argued that the influence of the military and judicial bureaucracies has sharply decreased due to the Balyoz and Ergenekon cases, and the constitutional amendment referendum of September 12, 2010. However, fear of military and judiciary tutelage has been replaced with deep distrust of social movements like Gezi and Kobane Protests and the Gülen movement’s influence on the judicial bureaucracy in the AKP’s election declaration. Therefore, the terms ‘order’ and ‘judiciary’s democratic control’ are frequently underscored. Although the AKP’s election manifesto does not clearly conceptualise these terms, the codification of Internal Security Bill in April 2015 and the AKP’s increasing control over the Hakimler ve Savcılar Yüksek Kurulu (High Council of Judges and Prosecutors) (HSYK) and Supreme Court after the graft probe in December 2013 hint about its potential relations with the security sector and judiciary in the future.

It is not uncommon to assume that the AKP uses its control over military, police forces and judiciary to consolidate its power in the political system. For example, upon the withdrawal of the Turkish soldiers from Suleyman Shah Tomb in Syria in February 2015 and the AKP’s following propaganda reflecting the withdrawal operation as an international success story, Oktay Vural, the MHP’s Group Deputy Chairman and MP from İzmir, accused Necdet Özel, Chief of the General Staff, of being involved in politics in favour of the AKP and urged him to resign in order to be a deputy of the AKP.[5] Similarly, Selahattin Demirtaş, Co-chair of HDP, argued that the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) became a player supporting the AKP during the election rally.[6] The discontent of the opposition parties on the relations between the AKP and the TAF could be seen in the election declarations. The CHP promises to establish a parliamentary oversight committee over the security sector and the HDP highlights the importance of the transparency of the defence budget while the MHP points out the necessity of keeping the military out of the daily political debates.

Opposition parties also criticise the sub-ordination of the judicial bodies under the AKP government. After the graft probe in December 2013, the AKP government argued that Gulenist judges and prosecutors are planning a judicial plot. That is why the AKP’s election declaration pinpoints the term ‘democratic control of the judiciary.’ Although there is no concrete definition of this term, previous practices demonstrated that the AKP regards judiciary’s autonomy to check the government as a threat for democratically elected government. Thus, the AKP’s election manifesto implies the executive and legislative body to control the judiciary. On the other hand, opposition parties view the AKP’s approach as an attempt to build an authoritarian system. The CHP, the MHP and the HDP unexceptionally promise to abolish the political pressure over judicial bodies in their election declarations. In the final analysis, one can argue that military and judiciary’s involvement in the political space has not disappeared. These institutions have been subordinated under the AKP government and they continued to affect the political game in favour of the ruling AKP.

The final problematic point relates to the Kurdish question, which has been ignored in previous versions of the constitution. One can argue that Kurdish question is the most debated issue among Turkish political parties. The AKP has not made any promises regarding the future of the ‘solution process’ in its 2015 declaration, whereas it referred to ‘the European Charter of Local Self Government’ in 2002. It would not be wrong to argue that AKP has left making references to the texts stemming from international law as it has consolidated its power and has adopted a local terminology. For example, the terms ‘brotherhood,’ ‘national unity’ and ‘common cultural ties’ are used in the 2011 declaration instead of any concrete framework in order to address the Kurdish question. On the other hand, the CHP’s policy towards the Kurdish question has remarkably changed after Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu took over the office in 2010. The CHP left its nationalist-secularist approach and has adopted more liberal discourse. Accordingly, the CHP offered the “European Charter of Local Self Government”[7] as the solution of Kurdish question in 2011 election declaration. However, the CHP opposes the non-transparent methodology of the ‘solution process’ –which is that has been negotiated between the government and PKK since 2013. Thus, in its 2015 declaration, the CHP promises to found a parliamentary commission for the Kurdish question abolish the election threshold and initiate a peace process based on democratic citizenship. It is safe to argue that the CHP is suspicious about the intentions of Erdoğan and thinks that he uses solution process in order to get the support of the Kurds in return for their support to the presidential system. Similarly, the HDP also declares that ‘solution process’ should not undermine the democracy in Turkey. As Demirtaş posits, “the issue of peace should be freed from being part of a political gain, or a piece of bargaining material for the AKP.”[8] This means that a perpetual peace requires nationwide democratisation rather than short term strategic calculations of political parties. The ideas of Demirtaş shape the election manifesto of HDP as well.  According to the HDP’s manifesto, extended local autonomy for the provinces, re-designing the administrative system and democratisation of whole country are represented as the pre-conditions for the solution of the Kurdish Question. It should be noted that the HDP’s emphasis on nationwide democracy has opened a gate for the HDP to be a political party of Turkey and to gain popular support instead of just being the representatives of the Kurds. Finally, the MHP’s attitude towards the Kurdish question makes the picture more complicated. The MHP declares that it has full support for the continuation of unitary nation state, which does not allow mother tongue based education in Kurdish and autonomy.

Conclusion

For a stable, durable and democratic constitution to emerge and survive, four conditions should be fulfilled. Nevertheless, political parties’ declarations show that the current situation of Turkish politics does not promise any light at the end of the tunnel regarding the making of a new constitution.  The primary reason for this conclusion is the AKP’s bid for presidential system, which brings an authoritarian regime to the mind of the non-AKP voters. Thus, containing the AKP and Erdoğan appears a mutual interest of the CHP, the MHP and the HDP. Nevertheless, it would be too optimistic to expect that fear of authoritarianism could suffice to create a strong bloc to make a new constitution due to the uncompromising standpoint of the MHP in the solution of Kurdish question. Furthermore, it would not be wrong to argue that an anti-AKP block will exclude 45-50% per cent of society and the new constitution would lack the backing of a significant part of Turkish society. Therefore, it is safe to argue that anti-AKP bloc could prevent a civilian authoritarianism to dominate the political system but fails to produce a large scale consensus and to settle the Kurdish Question for the new constitution. In the final analysis, Turkish political system seems to be in a quagmire on the eve of the parliamentary elections and is not encouraging hope for a new constitution due to the diverging positions of the political parties. However, it should be noted that a new game might start if AKP loses ground in the elections and gives up its insistence on the presidential system.

Dr. Burak Bilgehan Özpek, TOBB University of Economics and Technology

Please cite this publication as follows:

Özpek, B. (June, 2015), “Political Parties and Constitution Making Before the 2015 Elections in Turkey”, Vol. IV, Issue 6, pp.6-14, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=8960)

Endnotes

[1]Sami Selcuk, Demokrasiye Dogru (Ankara: Yeni Türkiye Yayınları, 1999), p. 64

[2]Burak Bilgehan Özpek. “Constitution-making in Turkey after the 2011 Elections.” Turkish Studies 13.2 (2012). pp.153-167.

[3]See http://www.aljazeera.com.tr/haber/erdogan-baskanlik-icin-en-uygun-iklim

[Accessed Date on 2nd June 2015]

[4]Ersin Kalaycıoğlu. “The Challenge of a la Turca Presidentialism in Turkey,” Global Turkey in Europe 14(2014):1-4

[5]See http://www.internethaber.com/oktay-vuraldan-necdet-ozele-sok-sozler-768375h.htm

[Accessed Date on 2nd June 2015]

[6]See http://www.taraf.com.tr/politika/demirtastan-saraya-inanilmaz-sozlerseviyesiz-baris-diye-derdi-yok-ki/

[Accessed Date on 2nd June 2015]

[7]European Charter of Local Self Government guarantees the political, administrative and financial independence of local authorities. For further information see

 http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/EN/Treaties/Html/122.htm

[Accessed Date on 2nd June 2015]

[8]See http://www.aa.com.tr/tr/haberler/465511–baris-oydan-daha-kiymetlidir

[Accessed Date on 2nd June 2015]

Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

Comments

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.