New constitution: An intellectual duty

New constitution: An intellectual duty

Irrespective of political affiliations, there is one issue on which there is an almost complete consensus in this country: Turkey needs a new constitution.

Why is that? The claim that the current constitution was the 1982 constitution dictated by a military council on the handpicked “Consultative Assembly” and approved in a national plebiscite-like referendum in November 1982 is definitely wrong. Over the years, over two thirds of the constitution has been amended in both large and small ways in over 65 constitutional amendments. Several of those important amendments were done during the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, is it not so? Thus, the text we have in our hands today cannot be still called the “military-dictated constitution.” 

Yet, there is need for a new constitution because not only has the constitutional text lost its integrity through so many amendments but even more importantly because despite all these changes, the “restrictive” and “limitative” understanding in the text’s structuring has remained intact. Thus, if someone claims that the Turkish constitution still smells badly of the not-so-democratic mindset of the 1980 coup leaders, he might be perfectly right. So Turkey indeed needs a new constitution that must be written with a “civilian approach” and that ought to be libertarian, not restrictive.

At that point, there appears to be a very difficult problem ahead. I must confess, when the president and his ruling Islamists talk about a new constitution, I feel pain in my stomach because of the acute feeling I have that “nothing good can come out of these guys.” Of course, this is prejudice and I must find a way of getting rid of it. Yet, the experiences we have been through over the past 13 years testify how correct I am in my prejudice. Just lending an attentive ear to what President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said this week regarding the Constitutional Court ruling on the Can Dündar/Erdem Gül case, what happened to the Koza İpek group (yesterday, Bugün TV and many others became history as the court appointed trustees shut these stations down) or the ordeal the IMC TV is currently facing, is it not sufficient to understand that this country, without a constitution legitimizing autocracy, is on the way to turn into an autocracy? Why would I or anyone with some notion of civil liberties, democracy, supremacy of law and pluralism succumb to an obsession to establish an autocracy in this country?

Is it not true that since 2011, through well-planned manipulation and using of the country’s AKP majority, the AKP leader has put Turkey under majoritarian governance with the pretext that national will must be supreme to everything else? Yes, Turks might have it in their genes to worship power and be ruled by a very strong, authoritarian understanding. My dear friend Prof. İlber Ortaylı might be perfectly right that Turks are a “soldier society” who love to be constantly instructed and thus maintain an enforced order. But the age of the one man rule is history. The age of sultans and their absolute rules ended long ago. Comparing today with the rather autocratic rule of the Mustafa Kemal Atatürk time and ignoring the singular, extraordinary conditions of the republic’s founding years, or trying to legitimize the AKP-style majoritarianism by pointing at the one-party rule under the Republican People’s Party (CHP) up until the late 1940s cannot be reasonable.

The Dündar-Gül decision of the Constitutional Court was so ridiculed by the president and the allegiant media that it became even more apparent that the “Turkish-style presidential governance” would indeed be nothing but legitimization of the de facto one man rule with no checks and balances, no separation of powers and, of course, no pluralism.

Obviously a new constitution is an intellectual obligation, as was stressed this week in a joint statement of academics. Hopefully, these academicians and intellectuals will not be attacked by the president and his merry men once again. However, is it not true that the nation has been demanding a new national charter that ought to be pluralist rather than majoritarian, democratic rather than autocratic, libertarian rather than restrictive, egalitarian rather than caste-like and which ought to safeguard democratic norms, values and institutions? The majoritarian governance and the one man rule must be categorically ruled out.

Hiding behind the “national will” can be no excuse, as national will alone cannot suffice to prove the existence of democratic governance. In the absence of the separation of powers, supremacy of law, norms and values including “accountability of all,” there cannot be democratic governance. In the absence of democratic governance, what will be the meaning of having a new charter? The absolute ruler – irrespective what title he might have – may decide to get his men write a new one the day after.

Unfortunately in today’s Turkey, the conditions for writing a pluralist, libertarian, egalitarian constitution that safeguards the norms and values of democratic governance are missing.