Friday, February 10, 2012

Weakening Minority Rights in Parliament

PHOTO from Hurriyet Daily News

At a time when Turkey is gearing up to craft a new constitution, its parliament is currently drafting changes to its rules that would significantly shorten the period of debate, extend sessions into the weekend if necessary, and limit proposals to draft laws.

The ruling AKP is claiming the rules are intended to streamline debate and increase parliamentary efficiency while opposition parties are claiming the new regulations are intended to silence opposition voices (for specific changes, click here). The debate reached a climax yesterday when the CHP, the largest opposition party, stormed the rostrum after Speaker Cemil Cicek closed debate after a five hour standoff wherein CHP and BDP lawmakers shouted slogans against the speaker, forcing Cicek to call numerous recesses.

The eventual result was a fistfight after Cicek closed the session. Fistfights are not altogether uncommon in the parliament, and in 2001, a similar debate over rules left one parliamentarian dead of a heart attack after a fight broke out. Cicek has been trying for the past week to reach a compromise between the AKP and opposition parties, though his efforts have clearly failed.

All three opposition parties are united against the rules changes, and claim the AKP is attempting to fix the rules ahead of the constitutional draft being submitted to the general assembly in order to easily force the document out of parliament and submit it to referendum, as the party did the 2010 amendment package. Though the AKP is three votes shy of the 330 votes (3/5 majority) it needs to pass the new constitution in parliament and take it to referendum (as it did in 2010), the opposition fears that the AKP could well cobble together this majority rather than engage all parties in a more consensual process.

Clearly such an endeavor would hurt the legitimacy of a new constitution and certainly contradict the ruling party's stated objective of achieving the widest degree of consensus possible -- but, here again, the operative word is "possible," and efforts to build consensus will depend on just how the AKP interprets this mission, and how committed it will remain to it. A party operating with a solid 3/5 majority since its entrance to parliament in 2002, consensus-building has not exactly been the party's forté, nor has it, in all fairness, to any Turkish political party. For more on this point, see E. Fuat Keyman and Meltem Muftuler-Bac's recent article in the January issue of the Journal of Democracy.

The appropriateness of fist-fighting aside, the move to change the rules has led opposition parties to boycott the constitutional reconciliattion commission charged with framing a new civilian constitution, and has, in general, detracted from the commission's task-at-hand. The commission is comprised of  12 members (three from every party) and is designed to garner consensus among political parties and civil society.

At this phase of the re-drafting process, the commission is currently seeking proposals from politicians and civil society groups, which up until recently, could be viewed publicly on this website parliament setup in October. Yet at the beginning of February the commission decided to hide the substance of proposals being submitted in order to protect the names of individuals and groups submitting them since some were quite controversial. At the moment, only the names of individuals and groups submitting proposals are left on the site. For more, see this front-page article from the Jan. 27 edition of Milliyet.

No comments: