A democratic constitution needs a democratic pen

A democratic constitution needs a democratic pen

Should Turkey write a short constitution outlining the fundamental tenets of governance and the relationship between the state and the citizen, or should there again be a comprehensive text regulating everything in all details? If the Islamists in Turkey are progressing so atrociously and speedily to kill whatever belonged to the secular and self-styled democratic Turkish Republic -- despite all the protective clauses embedded in the 1982 military-scissored constitution -- perhaps this country needs an elaborate national charter. If the elaborate 1982 constitution, (although almost 70 percent of it was altered over the past 30 years), cannot answer the expectations of society, and indeed is perceived as one of the main reasons behind the current politico-social woes of the country, perhaps it is wiser to have a short text on fundamental principles and leave the rest to laws.

Writing a new constitution is an important task, and naturally it is a very difficult one if the intention is not to produce a text according to the limited perceptions of the group currently holding the helms of power. To be honest, none of Turkey’s past constitutions were “military” texts. Some sort of a Parliament wrote each and every one of them. The problem was in the “majoritarian view” they reflected. Like a group of tailors, members of those assemblies tailored a dress according to the wishes of those that were absolute sovereign at that particular period of time.

Now, there is a national consensus in the country to write a new charter. The cacophony is regarding what to put in and what to exclude in that new text. Indeed as many of my readers have been stressing in their mails, the “first civilian constitution” must include “equality of all citizens” as the “mother of all principles.” Of course, a new charter has to be inclusive, embracing the entire nation without any discrimination, consolidating universal norms of democracy headed by freedom of speech and thought. A new charter safeguarding full human rights for every citizen is of course the most common aspiration.

There are some promising developments, particularly in the ruling Islamist party heralding the prospect of seeing an end to the practice of extraordinary courts in this country. Such reports boost hopes. On the other hand the prime minister and the religious affairs directorate are issuing fatwas condemning abortion as “murder,” underlining a crooked majoritarian mentality. With over 90 journalists, hundreds of academics, intellectuals, critics of the government and whoever fervently supports Kemalist governance currently in prison, how can Turkey hope to have freedom of thought in a “civilian” constitution?

Today, for a change in the confrontation-based political style of the prime minister, a meeting will be held between the premier and the main opposition leader on how to deal with the Kurdish issue and separatist terrorism. Of course, that is a good sign; as is often said, there is hope until the last breath is exhausted. Yet, all through the past decade, with a revanchist mentality and a “majoritarian” obsession, the AKP has been rigidly shunning compromise or seeking consensus.

Will it change now? The answer will define the fate of the new constitution.