Lack of compromise scuttled new charter
The original aim was to contribute to Parliament’s initiative to write a more democratic and civilian constitution for Turkey. The Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD) and Sabancı University’s Istanbul Policy Center (IPC) have been working on a “Conference on Institutionalization and Sustainability of Democracy Program” for a long time. Thomas Markert, the Director and Secretary General of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe agreed to join the conference, hoping it would contribute to the progress of democratic standards in Turkey.
Neither Muharrem Yılmaz, the chairman of TUSİAD, nor Markert could have known that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan would announce a day before the conference that the parliamentary Commission's work for a new Constitution was over, following Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek's abandonment of his chairing position. Çiçek's decision came alongside with the resignation of the Commission representatives from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), upon Erdoğan’s instructions.
In his opening remarks for the Conference on Nov. 27, Yilmaz did not hide his or the Turkish business community’s disappointment from the failure of the process. (It is not only TÜSİAD, but the Turkish Union of Chambers of Commerce [TOBB] had also invested in the project a lot by organizing the biggest non-governmental contribution effort in the country by organizing 13 conventions across Turkey in less than a year to gather thousands of contributions from opinion holders.) The criticism of TÜSİAD chairman Yılmaz was not as bold as the one of Haşim Kılıç, the head of Turkey’s Constitutional Court, who said last week that he felt like someone who had been deceived with the promise of marriage and then left alone. Pointing to the AK Parti-originating rumors that a new initiative could only be possible in a new Parliament, Yılmaz highlighted that there were still 18 months to the next general election. ”This Parliament should do it [complete a new Constitution] without further delay,” he said, adding that civil society would not abandon the demand for further democratization and would continue to push politicians.
On the same day, the Checks and Balances Network, an umbrella initiative speaking on behalf of 107 civil society groups, said they would not give up their campaign for a new and more democratic Constitution because of the failure of politicians.
The Constitutional Conciliation Commission was established in November 2011 by the four parties represented in Parliament, to make a draft ready by the end of 2012. Postponing the deadline a number of times in the meantime, it became defunct with the withdrawal of the AK Parti, because the total number of seats from the other three parties is less than the ruling party. Prime Minister Erdoğan’s pursuit for a stronger presidential system with less checks-and-balances was a factor in the failure, along with discrepancies between parties on the Kurdish issue.
I asked Markert, the head of the Venice Commission, how he considered the Turkish case. “There is a lack of compromise culture in Turkey,” he answered, ”The failure also may be because of the methodology which suggested a consensus of all four parties on all of the articles, discussed one by one.”
“Turkish democracy is older than democracies in Central and Eastern Europe” Markets comments, “But there have been interruptions. Moreover, until recently there existed a system of tutelage in which the democratically elected politicians were held in check by the military and high bureaucracy. This system, which had no democratic justification, has now been dismantled. This is welcomed but there is a risk that no, or very few checks on governmental power remain. The 'winner takes all' mentality characteristic for new democracies seems also to exist in Turkey and political parties seem more inclined toward confrontation than co-operation."