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‘Turkey’s Path to a New Constitution: Possibilities and Obstacles’
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‘Turkey’s Path to a New Constitution: Possibilities and Obstacles’

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CENTRE FOR TURKEY STUDIES

WESTMINSTER DEBATE

‘TURKEY’S PATH TO A NEW CONSTITUTION: POSSIBLITIES AND OBSTACLES’

10 December 2012

Committee Room 10, House of Commons

 

Keynote Speakers:

Professor Fuat Keyman of Sabanci University

Professor Levent Koker of Atilim University

Chair: Oksana Antonenko, Senior Political Counsellor at EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development)

Professor Keyman is a professor of International Relations and director of the Istanbul Policy Centre (IPC) at Sabanci University in Istanbul. As a political commentator, Professor Keyman regularly contributes to Turkey’s newspapers and TV programmes on issues related to Turkey’s domestic political developments and its international affairs. Professor Keyman works on issues such as democratisation, globalisation, international relations, civil society and Turkey-EU relations.

Professor Koker is a member of the Faculty of Law in Atilim University (Ankara). He was one of the members of the committee of scholars in 2007 to prepare a draft of the Turkish constitution. His books include Modernization, Kemalism and Democracy, Two Different Conceptions of Politics and Democracy, Critique and Turkey.

Summary

Turkey has adopted many political reforms in the last decade that have transformed Turkey significantly – especially democratic reforms, and changes pertaining to the rule of law, democratisation and human rights. This process has been mostly led by the incumbent AKP government with a promise by the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2007 to replace the Turkish constitution adopted in 1982 after a military coup in 1980 with a new democratic one. A new Turkish constitution is intended to be democratic, inclusive and responsive to the needs of the contemporary Turkish society. However, the path to a new constitution proves challenging due to the negotiations among the four political parties in the Constitution Conciliation Committee. Disagreements on issues such as state-religion-society relations, minority rights and division of powers possess a risk to delay the new draft to be presented in parliament over the next coming months.

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The Centre for Turkey Studies hosted a panel with expert speakers who analysed the necessity for a new constitution, the process of the parliamentary negotiations to draft a new constitution and the potential outcomes a new constitution can have in advancing Turkey’s democratic reforms.

Our first speaker Professor Keyman stated that Turkey’s political system requires a new constitution for further democratisation. He stated that if the four political parties in the Constitution Conciliation Committee could reach an agreement on crucial issues in the draft, the new constitution will be the first civil constitution in Turkey’s history. He argued that a new constitution should ensure equality first and foremost and individual rights as well as freedoms for its diverse peoples and pluralistic society. However, Professor Keyman cautioned that Turkey’s society has also become very polarised in which trust has become selective causing tensions amongst people with different social, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds.  Hence the process to a new constitution in Turkey proves to be one of the most challenging aspects of Turkey on its path towards further democratisation. Keyman further argued that civil society has failed thus far to participate in the public negotiations successfully to overcome the societal tensions in Turkey. Due to the AKP government’s state-centred politics, opposing voices and trends have been cautious in their constructive critiques against certain elements within the constitution. Without a healthy debate, Professor Keyman fears that the new constitution might only benefit certain interests rather than Turkey’s population as a whole.

Our second speaker Professor Dr Koker analysed the necessity for a new constitution by outlining some articles in the current constitution. Koker argued that there is a problematic use of the words ‘Turk’ and ‘Turkish’ in relation to the state and its citizens and the concept of Turkishness applied through the definition of citizenship in the current constitution in Turkey. He observed that the present constitution reflects a nationalist approach rather than a democratic and inclusive constitution. From Professor Koker’s perspective, this is one of the reasons that the present constitution fails to protect the rights and the freedoms of its citizens and centres on the supremacy of the role of the state. He further discussed that the emphasis on the territorial integrity of the Turkish state in the constitution enables only centralised governance which prevents local democratic movements. He argued that decentralisation of the governance would benefit the democratisation process in Turkey.

The guests in the packed committee room contributed to the discussion with their engaging questions and comments following the speakers’ analysis of Turkey’s path to a new constitution. The questions concentrated on the issues of nationalism and citizenship, Turkey’s Kurdish minority and territorial integrity of unitary state.

 

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