For several in Turkey who view the AKP as a sinister force bent on consolidating its own power and, for some people, pushing through an "Islamist" agenda, the constitutional package is nothing more but an attempt to aggrandize executive powers, shifting the separation of powers in its favor by diminishing the role of the judiciary. Yet, for others, the package is the only hope for meaningful reform, especially in regard to the judiciary, which has consistently used its authority to annul legislation and threaten political parties with closure. A majority in Turkey, in some polls well upward of 60 percent, think a new constitution is necessary, but that support does not necessarily translate into support for the proposed constitutional package, which the AKP admits is less than perfect, but the only means to reform in a political climate where drafting a new constitution is but a pipe dream. Yet, in either scenario, there is little doubt that the current momentum behind the constitutional package and the AKP's firm commitment to seeing it passed is related to the current polarization between it and the judiciary, including the possibility of yet another closure case (see Feb. 20 post). Going the route of the constititutional package means that the AKP has put itself on the track of advancing incremental reforms versus seeking a complete overhaul, which it had promised to do in 2008 before being faced with the closure case it survived by the skin of its teeth. (For a bit of background, see Feb. 5 post and March 7 post.) The party presented the constitution to opposition parties on Tuesday and Wednesday.
What's in the Package?
The most significant areas of reform include new law on the closure of political parties and a re-design of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the latter of which the European Union has consistently stated is in sore need of reform in order to shore up the independence of the judiciary. The number of judges on the Constitutional Court would be increased from 11 to 19, each judge serving a 12-year term and being ineligible for re-election therafter. The vast majority of the judges, 16, would be appointed by the president, who thanks to a constititional amendment passed in 2007, is now popularly elected. Three judges would be appointed by parliament. Some AKP supporters have pointed to this as a significant area of compromise since it is common in many systems to have constitutional judges appointed by parliament to begin with.
The majority of HSYK members would be increased to 21 and its powers reduced, a move that has establishment figures in the judiciary in a fervor. The HSYK currently consists of seven members -- five from the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State, and two from the Justice Ministry (the Minister, who heads the Council, and the undersecretary). An additional 10 provisional members would be appointed. Of the 21, four would be chosen by the president, one by the Constitutional Court, three by the Supreme Court of Appeals, one by the State Council, seven by judges and prosecutors from among judges and prosecutors of the highest rank, and three by administrative judges and prosecutors of the highest rank. The re-structuring of appointments gives more power to the president and to lower ranks of the judiciary. Also importantly, decisions by the HSYK to remove a prosecutor (as happened in the case of Erzurum prosecutor Osman Sanal) would be subject to further appeal.
In terms of making it more difficult to close political parties, another move long recommended by the European Union and the Council of Europe, political party closures would require parliamentary approval. Instead of the Chief Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals preparing an indictment to be pursued at the Constitutional Court, the Chief Prosecutor would instead be required to petition a parliamentary commission setup for the express pruposes of dealing with potential closures. All parties with a parliamentary group would be equally represented in the commission, and a 2/3 secret vote would be required before a case could be launched at the Constitutional Court. Evidence used and rejected in past closure cases could not be used again. And, in terms of political bans on politicians pursued in line with closures cases, and which are more politically destructive than party closures, any imposed ban would be reduced from five to three years and banned parliamentarians would be able to retain their seats (and, presumably, their immunity) until the end of their term. One significant lacuna here is the lack of inclusion of the Venice Criteria, which define reasons why political parties can be closed. Officials from the Venice Commission have largely welcomed the package of amendments despite the exclusion of the criteria.
One other amendment would also make radical changes to the current order of things by allowing for the trial of military officers in civilian courts. As a result of new amendments, decisions by the High Military Council could be challenged in civilian courts and the body would be theoretically subject to standards of judicial independence. The Constitutional Court annulled a law passed last summer to try military officers in civilian courts.
Other items in the package would open up political parties finances to auditing by the Court of Accounts, limit the reasons for which a citizen could be banned from international travel, protect personal data, and remove provisional Article 15, which granted immunity to individuals involved in the 1980 coup of which Turkey's current constitution is a product. The last move is largely symbolic and has broad support across political parties, though some have argued for prosecutions of who are by this time some very old generals. Also of potential significance are laws pertaining to labor, women, and children, which many critics suggest were, along with amendment of Article 15, as "sweeteners." Civil servants would be given the right to collectively bargain, though not to strike. An arbitration commission would be established to settle disputes, the decisions of which would be final. This is unlikely to gain much support from Tekel workers and others who are staunchly opposed to the neoliberalism of the AKP. Also, disciplinary decisions reached by boards of public agencies would be subject to judicial review. As to women, measures assuring positive discrimination would be introduced, though some women's groups have demanded that the operative term here should be "actual equality."
Addressing the Madisonian Dilemma
The AKP's plans to push the package through by referendum should it not be approved by an unlilely 2/3 majority of parliament raises important questions about majoritarian democracy and those whoare very much afraid that their rights are threatened by the more devout Sunni Muslim majority the AKP is thought to represent. Though the AKP constantly claims that it represents all citizens of Turkey, passing constitutional reforms that enhance executive power and diminish the role of the judiciary, however much needed, is a sensitive issue and should not be dealt with lightly. American constitutional theorist Robert Bork refers to the need to resolve the tension between values associated with what he refers to as competing moral demands for civility and toleration. Canadian political theorist Colin Farrelly expounds:
Civic liberalism takes seriously what Robert Bork (1990) calls the ‘Madisonian Dilemma’. This is the dilemma between the moral demands of the virtues of toleration and civility. Respect for toleration leads us in the direction of limited government, government that does not unjustly interfere with individual liberty. This concern for individual rights provides the normative basis for constitutionalism. This can be contrasted with the moral demands of civility, demands which leads us to majority rule and the idea of self-government. If we take only the moral dimensions of these two virtues into account, it seems that we cannot resolve the Madisonian Dilemma. For we have two contradictory prescriptions- limited government and self-government. But civic liberalism inspires a public philosophy that gives due attention to both the moral and pragmatic dimensions of these virtues. It does not seek to give an absolute priority to any of the moral demands of toleration or civility. Rather, it seeks to reconcile the diverse demands of toleration, civility and fairness. As such, civic liberalism does not see the Madisonian Dilemma as paradoxical. This apparent dilemma reinforces the case for invoking a virtue-oriented approach rather than a principle-oriented approach to government. Civic liberalism defends a virtue-oriented conception of liberal democracy that takes both sides of the Madisionian Dilemma seriously. A public philosophy that takes the complexities of the Madisionian Dilemma seriously is one that will seek to steer a middle path between judicial and legislative supremacy.Steering such a path in Turkey is no easy task, but it is a road about which the Turkish government, judiciary, and most importantly, Turkish citizens should think hard on and debate fervently. Much of the criticism of the AKP's constitutional package centers precisely on this lack of debate, which is only compounded by the self-interests of the AKP that would be advanced by the package (for example, see this piece from "The Bosporus Straight"). The AKP's previous attempt to draft a new civilian constitutional was also subject to such criticism, though the latter argument about the AKP's self-interests could not gain near as much traction since the draft came after the party's huge electoral victories in 2007. Yet, replete with the liabilities that come with a lack of public consultation and consensus-seeking, a lack of public discourse opens the package up to serious, and some case, warranted criticism, however difficult discourse and consultation-seeking is given the recalcitrance of opposition parties, the lack of coalition building and dialogue in Turkish civil society, and the authoritarian nature of political parties and the policymaking process. At an event last night, one woman broke into near tears as she conveyed her fears, however valid they may be, that the AKP was leading Turkey down a path contrary to its "republican" and "secular" heritage. Rather than dismissing such fears as paranoid or delusional, or placing this woman in the position of being the member of an "elite" who does not want to lose power in a system that has historically benefitted members adhering to her values and ideological orientations more than devout Sunni Muslims, the AKP should take steps to allay these fears by addressing them head-on, addressing the limitations of state power and majoritarian democracy when it comes to values and lifestyles shared by a minority. Here, "neighborhood pressure" again becomes part of the discourse, and rather than dismissing the term and the validity of the phenomenon, the AKP should do everything in its power to engage citizens who fear what is perceived by many as its creeping conservatism. From my Aug. 1, 2008 post following the Constitutional Court's narrow decision not to close the AKP:
For those skeptical to affirm AKP's center-right identity, the party must move away from the intra-party authoritarianism that characterizes all of Turkey's political parties, open its eyes and ears to the complaints of liberal reformers, and renew its commitment to constitutional reform—change that seeks to expand personal liberties and redefine Turkish citizenship along lines much more agreeable to contemporary understandings of democratic pluralism.So far, the party has done very little in this regard. For those fearful of AKP's more Islamist tendencies, the judiciary and the military, and for that matter, the state's laicist understanding of secularism, exist to protect civil liberties and freedoms (including to do such things as drink alcohol, not wear the headscarf, watch Western films, etc.). Until conservative Turkish governments can assuage fears that liberties and freedoms are not at risk, measures that reduce the power of the military or the judiciary will continue to be strongly resisted and seen by many as part of a hidden, alternative agenda. However much the AKP compares itself to center-right parties in Europe, few in Germany think the Christian Democrats are out to turn Germany into a strictly-conceived "Christian state." While the validity of perceptions that the AKP is out to do so might be open to question, this does not negate the need of the government to address the, and in doing, pursue the deliberation and dialogue necessary to resolve the Madisonian dilemma in the context of Turkish constitutional democracy.
UPDATE I (3/26) -- The Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB), the Turkish Confederation of Employers’ Unions (TİSK), the Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions (Hak-İş), the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions (Türk-İş), the Turkish Tradesmen and Artisans’ Confederation (TESK), Turkish Public Workers’ Labor Union (Kamu-Sen) and the Turkish Union of Agricultural Chambers (TZOB) have released a joint statement in which the unions said they would lend conditional support to the constitutional package, through they stressed a need for a new constitution. TUSIAD also expressed its desire for a new constitution, which some EU officials have said will prove a prerequisite for Turkish accession. TUSIAD stressed the importance of lowring the 10 percent threshold political parties must meet in order to form a parliamentary group -- a measure left out of the reform package, and which some have used as evidence that the AKP is concerned only with strengthening its own position. The fragmentation of opposition parties, many of which have not and are unlikely not to reach this threshold, has benefitted the AKP, especially in the 2002 elections that saw the party into power. The package will be presented to the parliament on Monday.