Turkey's democracy not up to strong presidency: Venice Commission head

Turkey's democracy not up to strong presidency: Venice Commission head

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkeys democracy not up to strong presidency: Venice Commission head

Gianni Buquicchio (R) responds to questions by the Daily News reporter. DAILY NEWS photo

A presidential system would not be appropriate for Turkey because the system has only worked effectively in countries that have a settled tradition of democracy, the president of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe has said.

Noting that a majority of European countries have parliamentarian systems, Gianni Buquicchio said the presidential systems in France and in the United States “work well, but not so well.”

“More importantly, you need a long tradition of democratic culture in order to have the necessary checks and balances. So in a country like Turkey, which in the not-so-distant past had an authoritarian regime, I think this is quite risky to go back to the presidential system because in the future it could become authoritarian,” Buquicchio told the Hürriyet Daily News in a Feb. 15 interview.

Constitutional reforms concerning the judiciary that were approved in a 2010 referendum were extremely welcome, but the prospective judicial system under the new charter would represent a regression, Buquicchio said.

The parliamentary system has worked well in Turkey until now, he said.

“So why not continue with the parliamentarian regime, giving more powers to the Parliament?” he asked, adding that one of the problems with the present Constitution was that the Parliament does not sufficiently control the executive.

Before drafting a new Constitution, a country should decide whether it is going to operate under a parliamentary or presidential system, he said.

“[This is] because you cannot draft a Constitution without knowing where to go. If you choose the presidential system, many things will change,” Buquicchio said.

Referring to the ruling party’s intention to take the new Constitution to a referendum and subject it to a deadline, he said the Constitution Conciliation Commission and the Parliament itself should decide the deadline and the date of any such referendum.

He also said a good result, not a quick one, was of paramount importance for Turkey.

With its 325 votes in Parliament, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) still needs at least five votes to take the drafted charter to a referendum, which requires a two-thirds majority for adoption without popular approval. The AKP can make alliances with either the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) or the Republican People’s Party (CHP) for the new charter as their support would pass the necessary 367 votes.

Elaborating on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s plans to end the work of the constitutional commission in April, Buquicchio said, “Two more months is not really enough in view of the problems present before the constitution commission.”

“The most important [thing] is that a Constitution should unite a country’s society, not divide it,” he said, stressing the need for Parliament’s consent on the new charter. A referendum could give more legitimacy to the Constitution but would not be able to replace the building of consensus beforehand, he added.

Buquicchio also drew attention to “worrying issues about the judiciary” in the proposals for the new charter.

He said they appreciated the amendment in 2010 concerning the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which led, for the first time, to the election of a body on which judges formed the majority and on which judges from all levels were able to be electors.

“But now, the new proposal is a step backward because you have the minister of justice, the secretary of state – who are full members of the high council – you have seven members elected by the Parliament, and seven members appointed by the president; only six members are elected by the judges. This is not good,” he said.

The majority must be judges and they must be elected by other judges, according to Buquicchio.
“However, we must avoid a sort of corporatism by judges. The rest should be not judges, but the members of the other legal professions,” he said.

“The problem we see is that there are elections to be held with a two-thirds majority in the first round, and then, if there is no agreement, a second round with an absolute majority. Of course, the dominant party has the necessary majority to adopt and to elect the people they want. This is not a democracy and should be changed,” the president said.

He said also the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) had some deficiencies concerning the “main role given to the high jurisdictions, Court of Cassation and Council of State.”

On the issue of electing Constitutional Court members, there are no standards, there are only trends, he said.

In many European countries, the election of members of the Constitutional Court is made by the Parliament or other political bodies, he said.

Two years ago, the deputy prime ministers of Turkey said they wanted to call on the Venice Commission during the constitutional revision process, but the commission has yet to receive any formal request for cooperation, he said.

Buquicchio also said Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek had told him during a Feb. 15 meeting that he would ask Turkey’s charter-drafting panel to cooperate and exchange views with the Venice Commission.