Toward Turkey’s first civilian constitution

Toward Turkey’s first civilian constitution

More than a thousand of people sitting around circular tables of six and seven each on the floor of a sports arena defying the call of a beautiful April Saturday in Istanbul are busy discussing issues they want to see in the new Turkish constitution

A scholar army of young men and women working for the Economy Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) under the impressive orchestration of its head, Dr. Güven Sak are taking their notes on a database program generated for this purpose, taking photos and video shots (even a helicopter camera was used) of the desks in order to remember who said what and why in case its needed in order not to miss any significant suggestion of the selected crowd. 

They are the local spokespersons of 52 national-level nongovernmental organizations representing nearly 12 million people, roughly a sixth of Turkey’s population. The one in Istanbul on April 28 was the final of a 13-stage effort started in October 19, 2011, held in 12 places before (from Edirne in the West, bordering Greece and Bulgaria, to Diyarbakır in the mostly Kurdish-populated southeast) to contribute to the constitution-drafting work going on in Turkish Parliament since the general elections in June. 

In the election campaigns all four parties that have a group in Turkish Parliament now promised their voters to try to bring a new and all-civilian constitution to Turkey. It was not only because people got sick and tired of the deficiencies of the current constitution drafted following the military coup in 1982 by a handful of academics and approved through a referendum under strict military regime circumstances; the result was a no-surprise 92 percent of course. The constitution had a number of corrections since then; almost a third of it. But the logic which focuses on the superiority of the rights of the establishment, not the people is there, and that is exactly what the parties have promised to change. The second reason is that all former Turkish constitutions, namely, 1876, 1921, 1924, 1961 and 1982 were all adopted following extraordinary developments like wars, revolutions, or coups d’etat. 

“It is the first time,” Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu, the head of Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges (TOBB), who has been hosting of the whole effort, said in his welcoming speech, “that we the people, not appointed experts, are touching our constitution-to-be with our hands.” It is not only those meetings; many institutions, from human rights defenders to a civil servants’ union, from the Greek Orthodox Church to animal lovers, which were not a part of the bigger effort have presented their suggestions to Parliament.

A rarity in Turkey, parties have been honoring their promises so far. In Parliament in Ankara, a commission was established under the chair of Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek with an equal number of deputies from each of the four party groups in Parliament. Çiçek and commission members of the parties show up as observers in all 13 stages of the TEPAV-organized largest civilian political activity in Turkey.

According to the schedule, the parliamentary commission is getting into a new phase as of May 1, shifting from collection of ideas to compiling, or drafting them, which is expected to be completed by July. The plan is to get it ready before the end of 2012, and it seems none of the political parties want to be stamped out as the one who spoiled the game.

Turkey, civilian rule, constitution