Checks and Balances

Lees hier het pdf van dit artikel. Though not strictly part of the Balkan region, Turkey and the Balkan countries are closely connected throughout history. Both also have to deal with substantial minorities. How is Turkey doing with respect to the democratic representation of minorities? An exploration of the current constitutional reform process. By Ardu Batu In Turkey, past attempts to broadly engage under-represented minorities, religious groups, and Turkish civil society in the constitutional reform process have failed, and resulted in constitutions that were neither inclusive nor entirely democratic. By incorporating marginalized groups and civil society into the current constitutional debates, the next constitution can be both representative of the needs of Turkish citizens and the growing global movement towards direct and personal democracy. However, in order to understand how to include all voices in the current debates, an assessment must be made of the failures of the previous constitutions and the processes used in creating these documents, to ensure that the same deficiencies are not reproduced. Lessons from the past combined with the input of civil society groups in Turkey and social media and technology platforms might finally result in the creation of a new document, representative of all Turkish citizens. Previous Constitutional ‘Reforms’ The word ‘reform’ implies ‘improvement’ and ‘evolution’, which is not a fitting description for Turkey’s past constitutional experiments. The undertaking of the 1982 constitution in particular can easily be characterized as a devolution. The processes of constitutional reform are nothing new in the Turkish Republic, which has undergone no less then four constitutional reforms and adoptions; in 1921, 1924, 1961 and 1982. The two most extreme examples were the interventions of the military in the civilian state and the subsequent resulting constitutions, although not a single one of the reforms was the result of a democratic dialogue. Large parts of minorities, sects, religious and political groups, including civil society organizations, were at best ignored, and at worst purposefully excluded. More than the content of each respective document, it was the lack of democratic participation in the creation process of the document that led, inevitably, to its successor. More recently, in 2010, the AK Party led state made amendments to the constitution, but again failed to broadly engage under-represented groups and the civil society. The result was a degradation of the separation of powers, particularly concerning the judicial branch, and a degradation of the checks and balances necessary to maintain a truly democratic state. The AK Party has stated that their main focus for the future is the preparation and ratification of a new constitution. Prime Minister Erdogan stated in a parliament address: ‘The nation expected the parliament to rewrite the constitution… The government and AK Party is fully determined about a new constitution, and as AK Party, we want a new constitution to be prepared with the broadest participation possible, and we wish that the new constitution will be a social contract reflecting the demands of all social segments… The structure of the new parliament enables us to rewrite the constitution with the broadest representation and compromise…’. Although the rhetoric put forth by pm Erdogan is hopeful, the failures of previous constitutions and the resulting relationship between the people and their government demands the full inclusion of all groups in creating the content of the document and also in the process of building the foundation and the framework of the new constitution. Waves of reform There have been four waves of constitutional reform in Turkey, and today there is an urgent need for another wave. This wave should fundamentally utilize direct and personal democracy in order to reach out to people and to channel their needs in formulating a new constitution; a new social contract. The application of a methodology based on inclusiveness, one that takes into consideration the needs and views of those from all marginalized groups and that includes civil society is the only sustainable path forward in the development of a new constitution. Through this methodology, the core issues that have previously divided Turkish society can be turned into foundational unifiers: freedom of expression, freedom of religion and identity, separation of powers, and regulations that govern political parties and the electoral system. The diversity of the Turkish population demands that serious efforts be made to ensure equal rights and protection of all Turkish citizens, and to guarantee their freedom to voice their opinions, whether through media or political groups and parties. The current reality is that it has become effectively impossible to establish and maintain political groups and parties for many of the marginalized peoples. Using the European Convention on Human Rights as a guide, of the realization of such legal protection before commencing the discussion of a new constitution would improve and increase the political representation and participation of politically stifled and marginalized groups. Furthermore, the establishment of a clear separation of powers, especially an independent judiciary, will prevent the domination of the political system by one single group. These legal and legislative protections would inherently strengthen Turkish society by consolidating previously fragmented groups into the larger discussion surrounding a new constitution. It should be underlined that opening the formal opportunities for the participation of the civil society or other marginalized parts of society would not by itself guarantee an effective participation of these actors in the preparation of the constitution. The existence of legal guarantees for the protection of the freedom of expression of these actors is also crucial for a democratic process. Turkey has serious issues with respect to freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Human rights organizations such as the Freedom House constantly place Turkey at the bottom of their freedom of expression and press rankings. Accordingly, there needs to be a serious review of the provisions of the Turkish Criminal Code, the Anti-Terror Law, and all other relevant legislation that is effectively used and abused by the Turkish authorities to infringe freedom of expression. Such a revision of these rather authoritarian provisions could also be seen as a confidence building measure among the different parts of the society that will be engaged in the process. Civil Society and technology The ability to engage citizens broadly, deeply, and efficiently has recently taken leaps forward due to the growth of civil society organizations and advances in technology. The utilization of the ubiquitous cell phone and social media as tools for direct democracy has gained momentum and has given its users a literal direct-line to interact with their representatives in the government regardless of location, socio-economic situation or ethnic/religious identity. These changes will undoubtedly be met with resistance by some governments and it will be necessary to establish a more organized and concise message, supported by a significant number of people, to push for real change. It is in this sphere that a developed civil society can act as a vital bridge between the government and the people. While communication between the Turkish government and its citizens has often taken a rigid, one-way, elitist tone, civil society offers an alternative route for groups to have their voices heard. The work of Istanbul based ARI Movement provides a specific example of Turkish civil society in action. Established in 1994, ARI Movement has completed a multitude of projects aimed at engaging Turkish people via media platforms such as Youth lab: Armenia, Turkey, America. This project brings together youths from aforementioned countries for exchange programs which are focused on leadership, volunteerism and cultural exchange. However, the project does not end once the physical grouping of the students is completed, rather, the youths maintain engagement through the implementation of online forums and social media platforms. This expanding role of civil society through the use of social media and technology only highlights the need for its inclusion in the coming constitutional changes. This is why ARI Movement, in collaboration with Stichting International Democratic Initiative (IDI), is now conducting a project on constitutional reform in Turkey, with the vision outlined in this article. The project focuses on one of the most vital aspects of constitutional reform: checks and balances. The project aims to produce a comparative study of separation of power and systems of checks and balances and how they compare to the Turkish case. This study will provide a framework for open discussion among a wide variety of stakeholders, opinion leaders and civil society representatives in a number of roundtable meetings across Turkey. Furthermore, the output of these meetings will be disseminated and discussed on web-based platforms. By raising awareness of the importance of a proper system of checks and balances and by providing comparative information on this topic, ARI Movement hopes to contribute significantly to the constitutional reform process in Turkey.   Arda Batu is a lecturer at Yeditepe University, Political Science & International Relations Department, Vice-Chairman of ARI Movement. He is on the editorial board of Turkish Policy Quarterly and editor in chief of Kalem Journal. He is consultant at Orbis Risk Advisory.   Heeft dit artikel uw interesse gewekt? Klik hier voor meer info en abonnementen. -- Dit artikel verscheen in idee nr. 6 2011: The rule of law en is te vinden bij de onderwerpen internationaal en rechtsstaat