Turkish government unveils controversial constitutional package
ANKARA — Daily News Parliament Bureau | 3/22/2010 12:00:00 AM |
Against stiff opposition throughout Parliament, the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, discloses its 26-item package of proposals for changes to Turkey’s Constitution. The most contentious issues include increasing the difficulty to close political parties, creating civilian trials for military officers, removing the head scarf ban from state-run universities and restructuring the judiciary and the Constitutional Court.
Turkey’s ruling party officially unveiled Monday its constitutional amendments package that seeks to bring radical changes to the judicial system and the procedure for party closures.
Included in the proposed changes, which are deemed controversial by some, is the power for Parliament to prevent the closure of political parties and allow civilian courts to try military officers, including leaders of the 1980 military coup.
Turkish opposition cool toward AKP's constitutional reform
While the government hailed Monday its much-anticipated constitutional amendment package as critical for Turkey’s European Union accession, the opposition criticized the proposed measures as an attempt to weaken the country’s secular system.
The package, meanwhile, also promises “positive discrimination” for women, but has also rekindled debate on women with headscarves attending university.
The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has inserted many articles in the 26-item package, three of which are provisional, to eliminate the difficulties the party has so far faced in realizing in its targets on various issues.
Chief among these amendments are reforms that would make party closures more difficult and restructure the country’s judges and prosecutors board and the Constitutional Court – which has been responsible for blocking several laws proposed by the government.
[HH] Headscarf debate
A proposed change to the Constitution’s 10th Article, meanwhile, has been interpreted as an attempt to lift the ban on headscarves in universities.
Remove the election threshold, campaigners say
The election threshold should be removed in the new Constitution, more than 200 academics, journalists, and activists demanded Monday even as the government began a tour to promote its proposed changes to the document.
Currently, the article states: “Women and men have equal rights. The state is responsible for implementing this principle.” In the proposed the changes, the AKP has added a sentence saying, “The measures to be taken for this purpose [securing equality] cannot be interpreted as contradictory to the principle of equality.”
The main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, said the AKP plans to permit female students to wear head-coverings in state-run universities with the amendments.
Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, CHP Deputy Atilla Kart said: “We were expecting such a move. The amendment is an indirect way to overcome the headscarf ban in universities. They have tried to do the same earlier, but the top court blocked them. They’re trying it again.”
The package also attempts to improve the rights of children with an amendment saying, “The state [will] take protective measures against sexual and violent child abuse.”
At the same time, the party is also seeking to grant citizens the right to demand that personal data regarding them is protected.
The package will further establish an ombudsman system to deal with problems that may arise between state institutions and citizens.
Public servants, which currently only have the right to collective bargaining with the government, would also gain the right to collective agreement. The changes, however, stop short of granting such employees the right to strike, although they will be given the right to apply to the court over censure or warning punishments they face in their workplaces.
[HH] Parliament will decide on party closures
Significantly, the package seeks to make political party closures more difficult. While the existing Constitution allows the chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals to directly apply to the country’s top court for a closure, the new package would ensure that all such cases would be subject to Parliament’s approval.
In the event that a party is banned from politics, deputies will only be prohibited from engaging in politics for three years, instead of the current five. In addition, such individuals would also be permitted to remain in Parliament until the end of the legislative term in question, even if their party is disbanded.
Meanwhile, the financial supervision of political parties will now be carried out by the Court of Accounts.
A citizen’s freedom to travel abroad will be limited only because of legal investigations, prosecutions or the court decisions.
The administration’s statements inside and outside Parliament will not be shown as evidence to open a case against a political party.
Decisions by the Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ, that result in the expulsion of military officers from the armed forces could be taken to court.
The justice services and supervision of the prosecutors with regard to their administrative duties will be carried out by the Justice Ministry inspectors and the principles in this respect will be regulated by laws, not the Constitution, if the package is approved.
The package will pave the way for civilian courts to try military personnel. The structure of the Constitutional Court will also change. The number of members of the top court, which is currently made up of 11 members, will be increased to 19, sixteen of who would be appointed by the president and three elected by Parliament.
[HH] Package restructures HSYK, top court
Under the proposed reforms, the number of the Supreme Board of Prosecutors and Judges, or HSYK, members would be increased from seven to 21 and the president will be given the right to appoint some of the board’s members. The minister and undersecretary would keep their seats on the reconfigured board.
Its members would also be elected from among lawyers, academics and judges and prosecutors from judicial institutions other than the Council of State and Supreme Court of Appeals. HSYK decisions to remove judges and prosecutors from office would also be subject to judicial supervision.
The amendments also envisions the annulment of the Constitution’s interim Article 15, which bans the prosecution of the 1980 coup leaders, something that the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, has repeatedly demanded. The CHP, however, says the article's inclusion in the package is a 'trick' to win opposition support for the package.
There are also debates that prosecution of the 1980 coup plotters is not practical due to the statute of limitations.
The package also regulates the referendum process as the AKP plans to push the amendments to a public vote. The package will be voted on as a whole under the proposed changes. The CHP wanted the articles of the package to be voted on separately.