Writing a constitution under tension
The debates on the new constitution and system are disturbingly aggravating Turkey’s polarization.
The government is imposing its own project using all the means of the state. Arguing that the government wants an authoritarian presidential system, the leader of the main opposition said, “You cannot realize such a presidential system in this country without shedding blood.”
These words are unacceptable.
The problem is not “who is right?” The problem is “how” we are entering into deadlock. The fact that the government is pushing with all the state’s means while the opposition is showing such reaction is the picture of how polarization has reached such dangerous levels.
We are not headed in the right direction. The more polarization increases, the more anger intensifies, and the more the room for rationality narrows.
General De Gaulle
Seref Malkoç, one of the president’s advisers, recalled General Charles de Gaulle’s semi-presidential system of the 1958 constitution, which saved France from crisis. This is a very good example on writing a constitution.
De Gaulle had given the initiative to lawyer Michel Debre, who had the respect of all of France. Debre prepared the draft and led the negotiations with the parties. Thus, de Gaulle avoided making himself a subject of polarization and the name of Michel Debre created confidence.
The leftist Pierre Mendes had accused de Gaulle of aiming for a dictatorship in his book, “The Modern Republic.”
But de Gaulle dismissed that accusation with his stance as well as by giving guarantees that there would be a separation of powers and a government responsible to the parliament.
It was seen as a version of the parliamentary system. Later, Maurice Duverger applied the name “semi-presidential,” and that definition became established.
As there was a change in the system and the constitution in a unifying manner, it was accepted by 79 percent in a referendum. The big majority of those who voted no were the masses of the Communist Party, which wanted the dictatorship of the proletariat as a system.
Writing a constitution with fighting
In contrast to this example, writing a constitution under polarization leads societies to greater crisis.
Scientists like Myron Weiner, Joseph LaPalombara, Giovanni Sartori, Albert Hirschman and Hanne Lemer, who have studied constitutional issues, have shown that fighting over a constitution in divided and polarized societies deepens the divisions, sending them spiraling to dangerous levels.
Once a political system loses its unifying characteristics, it leads to further polarization among lower identities and deepens divisions in society.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s words from April 30 were right: “The constitution is not written under tension; it is written with calm. If we are to be frightened by each word and concept, then we will lose the chance to write a contemporary constitution.”
Time to think
Indeed constitutions are written to unify the country, to create a projection for the future based on consensus and can only be successful under these circumstances.
Whether it is parliamentary or presidential, for any democratic system to function, it needs to be based on such a sociological and legal framework.
France’s 1958 constitution was successful because of that. The constitutions in Latin America and recently in the Middle East failed because they did not have these attributes.
We now think about these scientific inputs. The debates on the constitution and the system: are they taking place in a unifying and negotiating way, or not?
Is our polarization increasing or decreasing? Can we make a constitution under high tension?