Turkey's proposed charter shift weakens democracy: Venice Commission report

Turkey's proposed charter shift weakens democracy: Venice Commission report

STRASBOURG
Turkeys proposed charter shift weakens democracy: Venice Commission report

The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe has prepared a report regarding the April 16 constitutional referendum in which citizens of Turkey will decide whether to replace the current parliamentary system with an executive presidency, warning that the changes would usher in a “one-person regime.”

The report said that “by removing necessary checks and balances, the amendments would not follow the model of a democratic presidential system based on the separation of powers, and instead would risk degeneration into an authoritarian presidential system.”

The report criticized the proposals for “letting the new president exercise executive power alone, with unsupervised authority to appoint and dismiss ministers, and to appoint and dismiss all high officials on the basis of criteria determined by him or her alone, allowing the president to be a member and even the leader of his or her political party, that would give him or her undue influence over the legislature and giving the president the power to dissolve parliament on any grounds whatsoever, which is fundamentally alien to democratic presidential systems.” 

The Venice Commission also said the proposed changes would “further weaken the already inadequate system of judicial oversight of the executive and the independence of the judiciary.”

The report, which had been requested by the Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, raises serious procedural concerns.

“For example, Turkey’s parliament approved the amendments to be put to referendum, when several deputies from the second largest opposition party were in jail. The vote for approving the amendments was cast in breach of secret ballot, casting doubt on the genuine nature of support for reform and on the personal nature of the deputies’ vote,” the report read, referring to the jailed lawmakers from the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

“Furthermore, the current state of emergency does not provide the proper democratic setting for a vote as important as a constitutional referendum. Every state has the right to choose its own political system, be it presidential or parliamentary or mixed, but this right is not unconditional,” it also said. 

The Venice Commission consists of constitutional experts and advises the Council of Europe, of which Turkey is a member.

Meanwhile, the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on March 8 called for Turkey to again be subjected to monitoring in order to “strengthen its cooperation with the Turkish authorities and all forces in the country and thus ensure respect for fundamental freedoms, the rule of law and democracy.”

“Eight months after the failed coup attempt [of July 15, 2016] and the declaration of a state of emergency, the monitoring committee is concerned to note that there has been a serious deterioration of the functioning of democratic institutions in the country,” PACE said, adding that the government “has adopted disproportionate measures that go beyond what is permitted by the Turkish Constitution and international law.”

The report also pointed to the dismissals after the failed coup attempt, saying that it is concerned by “the extent of it.”

The committee expresses alarm at the “repeated violations of freedom of the media, the number of jailed journalists and the practices which are unacceptable in a democratic society.”

As regards the constitutional amendments to be put to referendum, the committee expressed its concern about “the envisaged system of checks and balances, the separation of powers, and the independence of the judiciary.”

Meanwhile, a U.N. court referred Turkey to the U.N. Security Council for “compromising the judicial independence of a United Nations war crimes tribunal by holding one of its judges in detention despite an order to release him.”

The U.N. court earlier ordered Ankara to release Judge Aydın Sefa Akay, a Turkish national who was detained last year on suspicion of involvement in the coup bid, which claimed some 240 lives. 

Akay, a judge on the Mechanism for the International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), had been due to hear a request to reopen the case of a Rwandan genocide convict when he was arrested. 

“Turkey’s non-compliance materially impedes the Appeals Chamber’s consideration of the merits of this case and threatens the independence of the Mechanism’s judiciary,” court President Theodor Meron said in a written ruling published on March 6.

The court, which is based in The Hague, said it had been unable to reach Akay.