‘Turkey Speaks’… Does the government lend an ear?

‘Turkey Speaks’… Does the government lend an ear?

It’s been nearly five months since the Constitution Conciliation Commission was set up under Parliament’s roof, and there are only two months left before the members of the commission begin drafting the charter.

Along with the commission’s meticulous work, an initiative launched by the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges (TOBB) and its think tank Tepav is aiming to take the pulse of the people and their expectations from the new charter in different provinces of the country. 

The “Turkey Speaks” initiative has already visited five cities so far and is planning to tour another seven provinces by May 1, the day when the first phase of the constitution-making process finishes.

I had the chance to attend the meeting that took place in İzmir last Sunday and returned home with an optimistic spirit, as I observed an enthusiastic, substantial and engaged participation. Turkey’s third largest city, once the Pearl of Aegean, İzmir, is among the few provinces where the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) cannot beat its main political rival, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). 

Under what Tepav sources call the “deliberative constitution,” the participants, seated around small round tables, debate a number of questions and then individually answer them through an electronic system. Fundamental human rights, freedom of expression, co-existence are among the questions posed to the participants. 

In addition to the “Turkey Speaks” forum, a constitutional survey will be conducted in other cities and will ask similar questions. Its results will provide an opportunity to crosscheck the forum’s findings. 

All the data to be collected by Tepav will be passed on to the Conciliation Committee, which will then take an inference from these views. In an earlier conversation, Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek said: “Not many are aware that the half of the job will be completed in the first phase of the process. That’s why I am relentlessly calling on everyone to contribute before it’s too late.” 

He is absolutely right. But what makes the process vulnerable, along with the unending political tension, is the government’s habit of slamming civil society organizations when they oppose its policies. 

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strongly-worded criticisms against the country’s leading business association, TÜSİAD, over currently-debated education policies unfortunately cast a shadow on the charter making process. 

On the one hand, calling on civil society organizations to contribute to the process, while on the other hand criticizing them for their views on Turkey’s basic problems, constitutes a very deep dilemma. If civil society cannot freely express its view on education policies, then how will it do so for the new constitution?

This pattern of the government contradicts with its commitment to forming the new constitution with the support and participation of all segments of the society, embracing everyone living in this country.