Thursday, August 12, 2010

A (not so) Simple Yes or No Will Do

Constitutional reform is tricky business. Fortunately for the average Turk, who is being asked to vote on a constitutional reform package in a national referendum on Sept. 12, Turkey's political parties are making things simple. Rather than talking about what's in the package, they have turned the referendum into a vote of confidence on the ruling AKP government and boiled down the whole thing into a simple matter of "yes" versus "no." Like the government? vote "evet." Don't like the government? Vote "hayir."

Or maybe things are not so simple. Writes Andrew Finkel in Today's Zaman:
In a nation already susceptible to polarization, who, one might ask, was the bright spark who came up with the idea of a political mechanism where the issues could only be decided with a nod or a shake of the head. It has already got to the point, the press reports, where brides and groom are falling out even before they leave the registry office over whether to take their vows with a government-leaning “yes” or the more contrary “I do.”
So what's in the reform package (which was passed in parliament a few months ago, but not with enough votes to avoid going to referendum)? Like many other AKP initiatives, it's a strange confection, layers of sweet-tasting and sensible-sounding enticements wrapped around a core of harder to swallow and clumsily disguised political self-interest.

What's causing the most debate in the package are the amendments that would change the way judges are appointed to Turkey's top court and to the powerful Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). Joost Lagendijk, a former member of the European parliament, takes a look at some of the criticism that's being leveled at that part of the reform package in a recent Hurriyet Daily News column.

Turkey, of course, is in dire need of constitutional reform, currently burdened with a constitution that was drafted by the military after the 1980 coup. The current document is designed to protect the state, rather than individual citizens -- a mindset that still permeates much of Turkish law. The AKP had actually campaigned in 2007 with the promise of a new civil constitution, but backed off on that promise once it got into office, using the political capital of its 47 percent victory and large parliamentary majority to pass a single constitutional amendment, one which would allow for headscarves to be worn at universities (and which was promptly annulled by Turkey's Constitutional Court).

The current package, which has some 20 articles, is again being delivered with a promise that this is only a prelude to further amendments, if not the long-awaited complete overhaul of the problematic current constitution. But there is good reason to worry about if more constitutional reforms will be coming any time soon, if at all, especially after all the effort that will be spent on passing (or killing) the current reform package. Hard to imagine anyone in the government having the appetite to go through the process again. One group of liberal intellectuals, who are supporting the package, are running a campaign called "Not enough, but 'yes'" -- not quite a ringing endorsement and one that struck as carrying a whiff of resignation to it.

For those interested in the actual details of the package, SETA, a government-leaning think tank based in Ankara has a rundown of the reform package, which can be found here (pdf).

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