Why a new Constitution?

Why a new Constitution?

Being macho is a difficult job. To remain a macho at times when past pledges give pain like in that old saying, “dates eaten in the past give pain when the time comes.” Who would know more than a decade ago that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would come to power within months of its establishment and stay in power so many years? Writers of the party statute thought at the time three consecutive terms would be enough for parliamentarians and party executives. So they wrote in the statute of the party, limiting all duties with three consecutive terms.

Alas, years past. The AKP became the first-ever party in Turkey that increased its votes in power in three consecutive elections. It became the government of the country with 34 percent of the vote; in the third election its vote share increased to almost 50 percent. While in the early years of its governance it was busy opening a living ground for itself, within years it consolidated, launching a revanchist campaign, sending to Silivri concentration camp most of its critics and creating such a dreadful atmosphere that people no longer dared to say a word against it.

But time was running out and the three-term limitation was looming on the horizon even for the de facto absolute ruler of the country. As a macho politician he would not walk against his own words and abrogate the three-term limit in the AKP’s statute. Better, he would change the Constitution and, since he cannot become prime minister for a fourth term, the country would perhaps move to a presidential or semi-presidential rule and he could retain power.

Was there a need for regime change? Were not the current powers of presidency sufficient for him becoming the chief executive? Indeed so. Furthermore, the current across-the-board judicial immunity and the unaccountability privilege of the president for all his actions in office, the current system was better than a presidential system with checks and balances. But, the prime minister wanted a presidential system as well as the current full immunity and unaccountability privilege. Besides, ethnic Kurds were expecting some sort of a constitutional resolution of what they complained was their backbench status; Islamists expected replacement of the definition of nation with that of an ummah; liberals were dreaming of a neo-liberal Turkey that became a small America. Besides, including the first 1924 Constitution, all republican Constitutions were written by “extraordinary” and “non-civilian” governments; that is, by the military. It was high time to appear as if willing to write a new Constitution.

Indeed, everyone had a different perception and expectation from the process and thus there was vast public support for the writing of a civilian Constitution as well. Turkey would have wider rights, liberties and thus an “advanced” democracy; wider religious freedoms; ethnic problems would all be magically resolved. However, except the alliance of political Islam – that is, the current government – and representatives of a separatist ethnic terrorist group – that is, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) – the nation remained aloof to the idea of replacing with some obscure terms the definition of the Turkish nation and fundamental tenets of the republican rule headed by democratic governance; secularism and supremacy of law.

What was important, of course, was to persistently create an artificial agenda and keep the nation away from the Constitution and such crucial subjects. After all, was this not a government mastered in “as if?” Is it as if it wishes to have a Cyprus deal; as if it is working on a deal with Kurds; as if it is spreading democracy in the neighborhood?