Thursday, September 16, 2010

A New Turkish Constitution: Looking Towards the Future or Clever Revenge?

On Sunday, September 12, Turkey voted on a referendum package of constitutional amendments. It passed with about 58% of the vote. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the package "a milestone for democracy."  The constitutional package is indeed a step forward for Turkey. The package has new amendments which bring Turkey closer to European style governments. The new amendments "allow collective bargaining for public sector workers and affirmative action measures for women." The new amendments also"guarantee gender equality and put in place measures to protect children, the elderly and the disabled", according to CNN. In what seemed like a foreign policy shifting away from Europe and the United States, Turkey has ratified new changes which make it seem more like a European state. The vote was important for Turkey in a few ways: 1) It was a step forward for workers and women's rights 2) It illustrated the stability of the Turkish Republic 3) It was a vote of confidante and approval for PM Erdogan's government and AKP party, and lastly 4) It now altered the nature of the secular courts.

I would like to talk about the last point. A few of the newly passed amendments curb the power of the military courts, lets parliament appoint judges and increases the number of judges of Turkey's Constitutional Court (their Supreme Court) from 11 to 17. One may ask, why is this important?

With the beginning of the Turkish Republic in the 1920s, Mustafa Kemal laid the foundations of what he wanted to be a secular state. The military and the courts remain a bastion of Kemal's vision. The Justice and Development (AKP)  party, formed in the late 1990s by Islam reformists, swept into power in the 2002, and 2007 elections. Between the two main Turkish political parties, the AKP and the People's Republican Party (aka CHP, Kemal's party), the AKP is more conservative and have closer ties to Islam. In 2002 and in 2008, the AKP was brought to trial in the Constitutional Court for conducting anti-secular activities. In 2002 the charge was terminated, but in 2008, the party escaped disbandment by one vote (seven votes are needed to disband a party, the verdict was 6-5).

The new amendments could change the balance of power in Turkey, and also its secular roots. The parliament, controlled by the AKP can now appoint judges to the highest court.Since the AKP party has stronger ties with religion than any other ruling party in Turkey's history, it could mean the appointment of six new judges who are less strict with religious activities. Thus, it is putting the court into the political arena. In addition, curbing the power of the military courts also presents a win for the AKP; it reduces the chances of a coup and bashes the other pillar of the secular roots.

The new constitution certainly liberalizes and gives more rights to Turkish society. However, are the courts amendments sweet vengeance in response to the AKP's two trials in 2002 and 2008? We'll see what it brings, but it is certainly a win for the AKP.

1 comment:

  1. The results of this referendum were really encouraging. I completely agree that it's both a vote to move forward with more democratic institutions and also to strengthen Turkey's relationship with the west. Turkey's position as the crossroads between Europe and the Middle East cannot be overlooked, and it can play a big role in mediating disputes between both of these parts of the world. I think that the President's of Turkey and Israel are going to meet at the UN in a few weeks so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.