Let the sun shine in on Turkey’s Constitution process

Let the sun shine in on Turkey’s Constitution process

Slowly but surely, Turkey is crafting its new Constitution. The Conciliation Commission of 12 MPs from four political parties and the Speaker of Parliament are currently coming together every day to work on drafts. Meanwhile, the Syrian refugee crisis is on our southeastern borders, NATO patriots and radar stations are installed on Turkish soil, non-linear confidence building measures (CBM) to end a 30-year armed insurgency in Kurdistan are under way, and whatever remains of the Arab Spring is blocking Turkish access to MENA markets. Despite everything, these 13 individuals are still sitting around a table, calmly negotiating the future of Turkey. That is fortunate for us.

Turks are still patiently waiting for their new Constitution. A recent national poll showed that more than 70 percent supported a new Constitution in Turkey. There is still excitement in the air, despite the length of the process. I am in the majority that still has high hopes. Lately however, I feel a bit isolated in Ankara as a die-hard optimist. Let me tell you why I am optimistic about the process, and why I now perceive frustration from the very people who are drafting the new Constitution.

First of all, the negotiations taking place under the roof of Parliament are unprecedented, and the members of the Commission are all aware of the expectations this brings. That, at least, is what I heard them say. This is a good plus to start with. Secondly, all the issues have now been covered, as of March 2013. There are now about 140 article drafts, with differing views on about 100 of them. For the first time ever, all four political parties have clear positions on all issues of the Constitution. Thirdly, there is room for compromise, clear opening positions lead to productive bargaining.

So that’s where we are now. And please note that we have arrived at this stage despite the poisonous political atmosphere of the country, despite the weekly Ba’ath-style parliamentary group meetings. I am happy to say that Turkey is no Egypt, despite all the odds.

So, why are the members of the Commission frustrated? Firstly, nobody is commending their outstanding performance. This is rather disturbing, considering the superb job they are performing in drafting Turkey’s first-ever civilian Constitution under the roof of Parliament. That is the place to solve all our problems and the magic is working. Secondly, at this stage, the divergent views on about six issues all reflect political differences between the parties. These are the definition of secularism, the definition of citizenship, the medium of instruction in schools, independence of the judiciary, local administrations and the government system. So the discussion is not stuck on one issue only but in six.
As these are political differences, the positions tend to be harder to reconcile. Thirdly, there is a problem with the design of the negotiation process itself: it is missing a moderator of divergent opinions. Without moderation, Commission members are stuck with their own lines when it comes to divergent opinions. They need an external mechanism to demand reconciliation, and I see a role for civic actors at this stage. That is where I see frustration and also the vehicle to break the vicious circle.

Let the sunshine in on the conference table. Make the process more transparent!