Confidence-building measures needed for new charter process

Confidence-building measures needed for new charter process

Thanks to the meticulous work of Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, progress on writing a new constitution will likely begin next week in Parliament, despite growing polarization between the government and opposition.

Even talking about a new constitution seems to be enough to fuel hopes for a more democratic and pro-freedom Turkey, which its immature democracy saw during several military interventions in the last four decades.

All political parties represented in Parliament expressed their intention to participate in the constitution-making process, easing the hands of Çiçek, who has undertaken a very thorough mission. As planned, each political party will assign three members to what Çiçek called a preparatory commission, which will likely meet next week under his guidance.

However, this hope-inspiring process seems to be very fragile due to growing polarization between the government and opposition, namely the Peace and Development Party, or BDP, over the Kurdish question and a recent increase in terrorist acts.

Growing pressure on the BDP through ongoing detentions of elected politicians and human rights activists’ connections with the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, has potential to mar the process. More than 2,500 people have been arrested since late 2008 - the majority of them members of the BDP. Government members’ harsh reactions and media’s one-sided coverage on terrorist incidents make Ankara politics more difficult for the BDP.

Another challenge to the charter process is the fact that all three oppositional parties still have deputies behind bars. This will surely put these parties under pressure from their electorate during this months-long process.

Regarding non-governmental organizations and the media, the deterioration in freedom of expression causes a major hurdle. There are dozens of journalists in prison with hundreds of them being prosecuted.

There is no doubt all of the aforementioned groups are in favor of creating a modern, democratic charter that includes the qualifications perfectly expressed by the European Commission’s draft progress report on Turkey:

“A new constitution would cement the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities and address long standing problems, including the Kurdish issue,” the report said.

In order not to sacrifice this process to daily political polemics, I am of the opinion that the government should take some confidence building measures in each of these problematic areas. As this process will take at least a year, why not introduce a democratic package – on long trial periods, jailed deputies, press freedom, etc. – to Parliament aiming at finding provisional remedies to the problems? This move would surely help provide a better political landscape for the new charter.