Guest blogpost by Dr. Gülistan Gürbey of the Otto-Suhr-Institute for Political Science, Free University Berlin.
Currently, there is a broad consensus in Turkish society and politics for a new constitution. The debate on a constitution has been running since 2007. In October 2011, the parliamentary consensus Commission has started to work on a new constitution. But right now this work is de facto ended because of differences between the parties regarding main issues such traditionally ideological basics of state, type of government (presidential or parliamentarian system), minority rights, the independence of the judiciary.
Therefore the chances of a new constitution have fallen significantly. The result is just that the parliamentary Commission agreed on 60 items/articles. And it is unclear what will happen to these articles. So Turkey is at the turning point: The decisive question is whether and how the process of a new constitution will continue. This is also unclear.
The importance of a new constitution: What has to be new?
As is known, the current constitution is a product of the military coup of September 1980. It is illiberal and authoritarian, it guarantees the omnipotence of the State over the individual, the civil society and fundamental freedoms and rights such as freedom of expression. All in all, the current constitution is itself an obstacle on the road to democracy. So there is a need for a new constitution which gives the opportunity to further the liberal democracy in Turkey, to establish a liberal democracy on the ground of a liberal constitution.
What is new or what has to be new? However, the new and civil dimension refers to the values level. It means to break up with the old values, namely ideological basics and the omnipotence of state. It means to establish a constitution on new values based on fundamental civil rights and freedoms, on a liberal understanding of state, nation and protection of minorities. To establish a new relationship between the state and its citizens: the state should be in the service of the citizen and not the reverse.
In this context to further the protection of minorities is one of the important key elements of a new liberal constitution, because of three reasons: First, the protection of minorities is an essential part of liberal democracies. Second, Turkey is a multicultural society and has a lot of ethnical, religious and linguistic minorities. Third, the Kurds are the biggest minority. Their struggle for cultural and political rights and autonomy is historical deeply routed. As a ethno-political violent conflict it challenges the state and has to be solved politically by the state. So therefore, a new civil and liberal constitution gives a new chance to pave the way for a better protection of minorities and to solve the Kurdish issue, which is also a Turkish issue. The role of the state is to guarantee a space for freedom and rights for its different citizens.
Of course, in the last years due to the process of Europeanization Turkey has made progress regarding individual rights and protection of minorities. But there are still different views of the parties how to deal with ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity in the country, how to implement minority rights in the new constitution. The main differences relate to the ideological foundations of the state which refer to the unchangeable articles of the current constitution namely Turkish nationalism (strict nationalism, which seeks national, cultural and ethnic homogenity), the understanding of indivisible unity of nation and state. And there are main differences regarding the centralization of state power and state structure, regarding power sharing between center and local and strengthen local and regional democracy.
To break up with the old ideological basics of state and society means to break up with the old negative perception of minorities as a danger for the national and territorial unity or integrity. More protection needs a new perception of minorities as equal partners and citizens. More protection needs a belief that the protection of their cultural and political rights is an integral part and will further stability and democracy. But in political terms, we are not yet so far and the traditionally threat perception prevails still.
Conclusion: Fragile process and unresolved issue
The current constitutional process in Turkey implies three results or problems:
First, a gap between demands from the civil society for more freedom and less state and the traditional, ideologically-led approaches of the political elites.
Second, the inability of the Turkish political elites and political parties to react with new approaches. The approaches of AKP, CHP and MHP are still traditional oriented and are not able to transform the societal demands into the political process. The parties need to adapt their ideas and concepts to the “Zeitgeist” (spirit of time).
Third, a new constitution needs a mental change, a change in minds and hearts within the politics and political parties. This process on the value level will take more time.
Without a new and civil constitution, Turkey will remain as a blocked democracy.Blogactiv Team