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The Turkish Referendum: Democratic Consolidation or Political Conflict?

The Turkish Referendum: Democratic Consolidation or Political Conflict?

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While the results of the September 2010 referendum will have important implications for the powers of the presidency and the make up of the Constitutional Court, the struggle between the government and the opposition is not about defending or opposing the current constitution.
While the results of the September 2010 referendum will have important implications for the powers of the presidency and the make up of the Constitutional Court, the struggle between the government and the opposition is not about defending or opposing the current constitution.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Sep 03, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The campaign under-way before the Turkish referen-dum on constitutional amend-ments has been intense. While the results of the referendum willhave important implications for the powers of the presidency and the make up of the ConstitutionalCourt, the struggle between thegovernment and the oppositionis not about defending or op-posing the current constitution.It may be considered a strugglebetween different versions of a“Good Society” as envisioned bydifferent political forces. Turkeyis experiencing a legitimacy crisiswhereby the secular credentialsof the AKP are called into ques- tion by the opposition on the onehand, while the conservatives, the AKP elite included, question the commitment of the opposi- tion parties to civilian supremacyover the military command on theother. A
that reinforc-es the crisis of legitimacy, whichin turn undermines trust between the major actors in Turkish
politics, now denes the political
atmosphere in Turkey.
Te long-standing urkish
between secular-modernist and traditional, conserva-tive and Sunni Muslim values has onceagain come to dene the main issueson the political agenda. When it rstcame to power in 2002, the Justice andDevelopment Party (AKP) govern-ment acted with caution; its approachresembled a orm o good governance.It tested the waters on such issues ascriminalizing adultery, legalizing the
and turning orested areasinto residential zones. It only alteredits initial positions when it ran intoa torrent o criticism. However, withthe start o the election process o thepresident o the republic in the urkishGrand National Assembly (BMM)in 2007, the style o the AKP govern-ment began to change dramatically. Itsleader, Prime Minister Erdoğan beganto emphasize legislative supremacy and his personal representation o thenational will (
milli irade
), and madereerences to the Democrat Party (DP)o the 1950s as its ideological prede-
Türban refers to a style of wearing a headscarf thatcovers a woman’s hair, ears, neck, shoulders, and bosom.Several court cases have resulted from female studentsinsisting on donning the türban at medical and nursing schools instead of nurse uniforms. It seemed as if theyare not alone in this struggle, with many men also sup-porting them at rallies and demonstrations. They havemade attempts to register the türban as a legal right,which the Turkish administrative courts and eventually theEuropean Court of Human Rights (ECHR) have rejected.
 The Turkish Referendum: Democratic
Consolidation or Political Confict?
Ersin Kalaycıoğlu
September 3, 2010
, DC
cessor. From 2007 onwards a majori-tarian style o discourse and conductthat substituted good governance withanger, accusations, and conrontationsbegan to characterize the actions o theAKP leader and his ollowers.Te decisions o the ConstitutionalCourt in 2007 and 2008 on thequorum o the BMM or the electiono the president o the republic, thelegal status o the türban, and the AKPconstituting the ocal point o activi-ties to undermine secularism, seemedto contribute urther to the develop-ment o that style o politics. Tepolitical milieu was also inuenced by the sweeping arrests o ormer mili-tary commanders, ocers on duty, journalists, rectors o universities,non-Muslim clerics, businesspersons,and trade union leaders in 2007.Tose arrested were charged withestablishing an organization, alleg-edly called Ergenekon, to topple theAKP government. Te AKP acted asi it believed that there existed a grandconspiracy o the secular political elitesas well.It is a matter o act that the AKP andother parliamentary parties have allencompletely apart over the Ergenekoncourt cases and a host o other political
issues. In act, the decision o the Constitutional Courtconcerning the AKP in 2008 delivered an indelible blow tothe secular credentials o the AKP. It is also a matter o actthat the AKP has been struggling to cast doubt over thedemocratic credentials o its main opponents, the Repub-lican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist MovementParty (MHP). In the meantime, on several occasions, theopposition parties have declared that they do not trust theAKP and its leadership. Tereore, it seems as i urkey isexperiencing a legitimacy crisis whereby the secular creden-tials o the AKP are called into question by the secularopposition on the one hand, while the conservatives, theAKP elite included, question the commitment o the CHPand the MHP to civilian supremacy over the military command on the other. A kulturkamp that reinorces thecrisis o legitimacy, which in turn undermines trust betweenthe major actors in urkish politics, now denes the polit-ical atmosphere in urkey.
Expanded Courts and an Uncertain Presidency
By March 2010, the AKP had moved toward an overhaul o several articles o the 1982 Constitution.
Tis was not therst time that the AKP has attempted to amend it. Te lastmajor overhaul o the constitution was in 2004, as part o EU-motivated political reorms, or which the oppositionpolitical parties in the urkish Parliament had also extendedtheir support. However, the current constitutional amend-ments are opposed by all o the parliamentary oppositionparties and a large swath o nongovernmental organizations(NGOs). Te rest o the country seems to be split down themiddle about what the reerendum stands or.Te timing o the move to amend the constitution seemedto coincide with rumors about a second indictment to banthe AKP on charges o violation o Article 2 o the consti-tution concerning secularism. Te AKP appears to havemoved swily to deny party closures through proposedconstitutional amendments. Te AKP has also complained
Turkey experienced its last referendum on constitutional amendments on October 21,2007. That referendum focused on the status of the president, and the constitutionalamendments were regarding the tug of war between the AKP and its opponents over theright of the AKP to name its own candidate freely for the presidency and get him electedin the TBMM. On two earlier occasions the party leaders had selected themselves as can-
didates and were successfully elected as presidents. There was nothing of signicance
 that pertained to democratization per se in the 2007 referendum. However, the overallimpact of that referendum, which received the approval of 70 percent of the electorate,
will have a major and dire inuence on democracy in Turkey for many years to come.
about the “tutelage o the High Courts,” and has oendeclared complete distrust o them in public. Te move tochange the composition o the Constitutional Court and theSupreme Board o Prosecutors and Judges (HSYK)
seemsto kill two birds with one stone. I more conservative judgescould be elected to serve on both the Constitutional Courtand HSYK, the higher courts would become more avorably disposed toward the AKP. At the same time, there wouldnot be enough votes to close down the party i a ban were tobe motioned by the chie prosecutor at the ConstitutionalCourt.Te amended article concerning the Constitutional Courtincreases the number o judges serving on the benchrom 11 to 17, while the president will have some role inappointing 14 out o 17 judges, each or a period o 12 yearson the bench. However, the constitutional status o the pres-ident, which was altered by the reerendum o October 21,2007, is still unclear. It would have been much more logicalto dene the new status o the president rst and thenentrust him with new responsibilities, i that new status sorequired or permitted. I the new status o the presidentwere to be just symbolic, as in Iceland or Singapore, would
The HSYK is an administrative organ that handles the hiring, appointment, promotion,
and ring of all prosecutors and judges. It had been autonomous from the executivebranch of the government prior to the 1982 Constitution, but came under the inuence
of the Ministry of Justice since that constitution came into effect. Ironically, the EU haddemanded that the minister of justice and his undersecretary be taken off that board to render it autonomous from executive rule. The current amendment would probablyenhance the representational credentials of the HSYK, though the status of the ministerand the undersecretary in that council would hardly be altered.
that reinforces the crisis of legitimacy, which in turn undermines trust between the major actors in Turkish
politics, now denes the political
atmosphere in Turkey.
it not be awkward or the presidency to be involved in thehigh politics o the appointment o judges and prosecutors?Furthermore, in 2003 when dealing with a totally diferentpresident, the same AKP government planned a constitu-tional amendment, which never materialized, that wouldhave decreased the number o presidential appointmentson the same Constitutional Court. It now looks as i theAKP has diferent constitutional provisions or diferentincumbents o the presidency, making it appear partisan,ideological, and personal, and not necessarily democrati-cally virtuous. Te other 25 amendments included in thereerendum are generally believed to be marginal, added onwith haste and oen as a orm o sweetener or some lobby group to attract their support.In the meantime, the amendment rendering party closures virtually impossible ailed to be adopted by the AKPmajority in the BMM and got dropped rom the list o amendments. Te CHP appealed and requested that theConstitutional Court strike down the current amend-ments as unconstitutional. Te Constitutional Court didconsider the CHP’s appeal, but only changed the votingprocedure or the Constitutional Court and the HSYK, andtook nonlawyers of the list o potential candidates or theHSYK. Tat decision by the Constitutional Court wouldmake it more dicult or the president to appoint conserva-tive members. I the reerendum passes, the ConstitutionalCourt will have more members picked by the currentpresident rom a list o lawyers, who would be elected by all the judges and prosecutors o the land, each or a periodo 12 years. It is still possible that the Constitutional Courtcould get enough conservative members so as to be dividedinto two roughly equal groups o judges, conservative andsecular. I that were to happen, there is a risk o judicialstalemate, or several decisions would require more than asimple majority on the bench.
An Intensely Political Contest
Te campaign or the reerendum has been intense. TeAKP leadership is mainly using the traditional discourseo the conservative right, condemning the authoritarianrule o the CHP in the 1940s, raising racist allusions, andemphasizing its anti-military posture and its commitmentto democracy. Te secular CHP campaigns on corrupt prac-tices o the AKP, attacks the style and image o the primeminister, and pays homage to le-o-center slogans. Teurkish ethnic nationalist MHP has attacked the interna-tionalist stand o the AKP, including its dealings with theEU and the purported inuence o the United States. TeKurdish ethnic nationalist Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has completely boycotted the reerendum, eventhough Kurdish voters seem to exhibit a variety o opinions.Te reerendum campaign now runs through Ramadan,and the reerendum will take place right aer the
(athree-day-long religious holiday). It seems as i the religiousmonth has made no impact on the discourse o the politicalelites. However, one act stands beyond dispute or now: theparties have not been providing much inormation aboutwhat the reerendum is all about.
One fact stands beyond disputefor now: the parties have not beenproviding much information aboutwhat the referendum is all about.The struggle between thegovernment and the opposition isnot about defending or opposing  the current Constitution. It maybe considered a struggle betweendifferent versions of a “GoodSociety” as envisioned by differentpolitical forces.

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