Firat Cengiz https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/9347/all cached version 17/12/2018 22:03:41 en Firat Cengiz https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/firat-cengiz <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Firat Cengiz </div> </div> </div> <p>Firat Cengiz is lecturer in law at the University of Liverpool. Her primary research interests are in Europeanisation and multi-level governance. She is the author of <em>Antitrust Federalism in the EU and the US</em> and the co-editor of <em>Turkey and the European Union: Facing New Challenges and Opportunities</em> (with Lars Hoffmann).</p> Firat Cengiz Mon, 14 Jan 2013 10:40:08 +0000 Firat Cengiz 70351 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Democratic reform in Turkey: constitutional ‘moment’ or constitutional process? https://www.opendemocracy.net/firat-cengiz/democratic-reform-in-turkey-constitutional-%E2%80%98moment%E2%80%99-or-constitutional-process-0 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Constitutions are highly entrenched laws that express the common identity of the nation. They require substantial public involvement. Yet in Turkey, the details of the reform process have not been fully disclosed, and it is being rushed through.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan considers 2012 a lost year for his country’s democratic reform process. In an <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAIxTeLEbWM">interview</a> he recently he gave to the state TV channel TRT, Erdoğan expressed frustration that the Turkish Parliament has not yet finished drafting the country’s new constitution.</p> <p>The current constitution of the Turkish Republic, the 1982 Constitution, came into force as a direct result of the <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/11/turkey-coup-human-rights-violations">1980 military coup</a>. Additionally, the Constitution is notoriously authoritarian in its substance. Thus, its reform has been on Turkey’s political agenda since the late 1990s. The EU has played a major reform facilitator role by demanding specific constitutional reforms as a part of Turkey’s <a href="http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2008:051:0004:01:EN:HTML">accession framework</a> to the EU. Primarily in response to <a href="http://www.google.be/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=2&amp;cad=rja&amp;ved=0CDgQFjAB&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fuserpage.fu-berlin.de%2Fkfgeu%2Fkfgwp%2Fwpseries%2FWorkingPaperKFG_36.pdf&amp;ei=6_LuUNq3H-WI0AWJooEg&amp;usg=AFQjCNE1_EPXYX_sISYPiT1Mi12Cz1x3OA&amp;bvm=bv.1357700187">EU’s demands</a>, the Parliament has amended the Constitution hundred and three times so far. Nevertheless, an entirely new constitution drafted by civilians was still considered necessary for Turkey to fully recover from the stigma of the coup and the authoritarianism it injected to the country’s governance. </p> <p>In particular, the Prime Minister and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) built their campaign for the <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/firat-cengiz-lars-hoffmann/2011-turkish-elections-and-prospects-for-turkey-eu-relations">2011 political elections</a> almost entirely on the promise of a new constitution. The specific constitutional changes that the AKP wants to implement are yet to be revealed, apart from the party’s goal to replace the current parliamentary democracy <a href="http://pa.oxfordjournals.org/content/65/1/255.short">with a semi-presidential regime</a>.</p> <p>The governing party’s preference for the semi-presidential regime stems from an anomaly in Turkey’s parliamentary democracy: a publicly elected president who enjoys only symbolic powers. Originally, the Constitution had foreseen that the president should be elected by Parliament as is usual in parliamentary democracies. But Parliament amended the election procedure in 2007 after non-majoritarian institutions – the Constitutional Court and the military – meddled in <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_presidential_election,_2007">the election of Abdullah Gül</a>, the current president. The Prime Minister and his party want to see this anomaly corrected with <a href="http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2012/11/against-a-presidential-system-in-turkey.html">constitutional amendments</a> extending the publicly elected president’s executive powers. Ideally, this should be done before the 2014 presidential elections, presumably to allow the Prime Minister to run for the office. Hence, his disappointment with the slow progress in the drafting of the new constitution.</p> <h2>Turkey’s ‘constitutional moment’ </h2> <p>Turkey’s current constitutional reform process represents a unique ‘constitutional moment’ in <a href="http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bpl/gao/2011/00000046/00000004/art00004">the Republic’s history</a> in which civilian democratic institutions draft a constitution without military interference. Thus, the reform process has the potential of serving greater purposes than the political ambitions of the Prime Minister and his party. Most crucially, the reform process could contribute towards the bridging of gaps between Turkish society’s <a href="http://www.e-ir.info/2012/07/25/turkeys-new-constitution-transformation-democratization-and-living-together/">increasingly polarised clusters</a>, including the Kurdish and Turkish nationalists, conservative Kemalists, political Islamists and religious and cultural minorities. A meaningful constitutional debate could reveal different clusters’ similar as well as different expectations from the country’s governance. This would contribute to the diminishing, if not the demise, of long-standing mutual prejudices.</p> <p>The constitutional reform process will also have profound effects on Turkey’s stance in Europe and the wider world: if successful, the reform process could reverse the European Commission’s increasingly <a href="http://www.google.be/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=1&amp;ved=0CDAQFjAA&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fec.europa.eu%2Fenlargement%2Fpdf%2Fkey_documents%2F2012%2Fpackage%2Ftr_rapport_2012_en.pdf&amp;ei=fqfuUMCsK4uY1AW94ICQDw&amp;usg=AFQjCNHUNliK5EYr_C1UxZ47k5dUG84RIA&amp;bvm=bv">sceptical evaluation</a> of democracy in Turkey, thus, contributing towards a new high point in Turkey–EU relations. On the other hand, the Turkish government’s ambitions to <a href="http://www.google.be/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=17&amp;ved=0CE4QFjAGOAo&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fhome.ku.edu.tr%2F~zonis%2FBetween_ethics_and_self-interest.pdf&amp;ei=rr3uUIa1JsaW0QXa4YHwBw&amp;usg=AFQjCNEFVC-PZKBjYn-2btOabQ1HTGR5Fg&amp;bvm=bv.1357700187,d.d2k&amp;cad=rj">lead the democratic reform</a> processes in its region after the Arab Spring are well known. Setting an example for democratic constitution-making would provide the government with a legitimate claim for such leadership. The adoption process of <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/25/egypt-constitution-approved-referendum">Egypt’s new constitution</a> demonstrates that the region is indeed in need of such a leader.</p> <h2>Shortcomings of the on-going reform process </h2> <p>Constitutions are highly entrenched laws that express ‘<a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-8129.2010.00435.x/abstract">the common identity of the nation</a>’. Thus, their <a href="http://www.usip.org/publications/democratic-constitution-making">adoption process</a> requires substantial public involvement so that they would enjoy greater legitimacy than do regular pieces of legislation. In the Turkish case, the details of the reform process have not been fully discussed in public. </p> <p>After the 2011 political elections a <a href="https://yenianayasa.tbmm.gov.tr/uyeler.aspx">conciliatory committee</a> was formed between the four political parties represented in the Parliament to work on constitutional reform (source in Turkish). The committee decided upfront to draft an entirely new constitution rather than limiting itself to the substance of the 1982 Constitution. Initially, the commission’s decision was met with celebration and raised expectations for a new constitution improving democracy in the country’s governance. &nbsp;However, the experiences during the committee’s first fifteen months of work <a href="http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/egypt-becoming-the-model-for-turkey.aspx?pageID=238&amp;nid=38145">raise doubts</a> as to whether the reform process will live up to those expectations.</p> <p>The Turkish electoral system involves an <a href="http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-87363#%7B%22itemid%22:%5B%22001-87363%22%5D%7D">unusually high</a> 10 per cent national electoral threshold that prevents optimal representation of different societal clusters. This reduces the reform process’ legitimacy, since the Parliament represents the public only partially. Before the 2011 elections, opposition parties as well as constitutional law scholars suggested <a href="http://www.tesev.org.tr/Upload/Publication/341774d7-7e6f-4078-9149-445ede629d51/TESEV%20Report%20on%20TR%20Constitution.pdf">reforms to be adopted</a> to reduce the national election hurdle. The AKP, nevertheless, rejected those suggestions relying on the argument of stability in governance.</p> <p>The Turkish criminal regime imposes various <a href="http://www.hrw.org/reports/2010/11/01/protesting-terrorist-offense-0">limitations</a> on the freedoms of thought, speech and assembly. This prevents <a href="http://www.tesev.org.tr/Upload/Publication/ca56e382-a62b-4e40-b36b-3f7014875215/ENGanayasaizleme1_18_10_12.pdf">emergence of a liberal discourse</a> where the public can discuss the country’s more contentious problems – such as the Kurdish issue, secularism, religious rights and minority and cultural rights – without the fear of being subject to criminal investigations. In order to encourage submission of opinions by civil society, organisations and individuals, the conciliatory committee does not disclose the opinions it received to the public. This <a href="http://www.tesev.org.tr/Upload/Publication/ca56e382-a62b-4e40-b36b-3f7014875215/ENGanayasaizleme1_18_10_12.pdf">secrecy</a> not only prevents a substantial constitutional debate but it also stands as proof for the gravity of limitations on fundamental rights and freedoms.</p> <p>The government deals with some constitutional matters as matters of daily politics without the involvement of the Parliament or the conciliatory committee. The government have recently re-launched <a href="http://www.euronews.com/2013/01/07/turkey-reveals-secret-pkk-talks/">peace talks</a> with the Kurdish PKK. Any effort for the resolution of the country’s long-standing Kurdish issue deserves celebration. Nevertheless, the Kurdish issue does not only have a terror dimension, but it is inextricably linked to the poor accommodation of the Kurds’ as well as other minorities’ <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcms.12010/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&amp;userIsAuthenticated=false">linguistic and cultural rights</a>. Thus, it is difficult to envisage a stable solution to the Kurdish issue without a meaningful debate on the constitutional accommodation of minority and cultural rights in general.&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, an increasingly <a href="http://www.tesev.org.tr/Upload/Publication/ca56e382-a62b-4e40-b36b-3f7014875215/ENGanayasaizleme1_18_10_12.pdf">hostile political environment</a> has overshadowed the reform process. Divergences between different political parties have become increasingly prevalent after the emergence of a <a href="http://www.google.be/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=3&amp;ved=0CDsQFjAC&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.opendemocracy.net%2Ffirat-cengiz-lars-hoffmann%2Fparliamentary-crisis-imprisoned-politicians-in-turkey&amp;ei=XMXuUIelC8ix0QWJ84H4Bg&amp;usg=AFQjCNGXi9h2e1d6pn-4shxrY">parliamentary crisis</a> involving imprisoned politicians shortly after the 2011 elections. Not only have <a href="http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/europe/turkey-cyprus/turkey/219-turkey-the-pkk-and-a-kurdish-settlement.aspx">terror and violence</a> in the southeast as well as <a href="http://www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=295616">hate crimes</a> in general shown an upward swing, but even the country’s scientific community seems dangerously politically polarised: after the brutal police suppression of <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-27/turkish-student-protests-against-erdogan-spread-cnn-turk.html">wide-spread student protests</a> of Erdoğan’s visit to the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkish <a href="http://bianet.org/english/youth/143088-academicians-launch-campaign-against-pm-university-presidents">universities published opinions</a> split between METU and its students and Erdoğan and, implicitly, the police forces. </p> <p>The strict deadline imposed on the reform process by Erdoğan and the AKP exacerbates the hostilities. In the shadow of the deadline, a meaningful debate on the country’s long-standing problems with the potential of achieving consensus seems highly unrealistic. Different political groups see the reform of process as a now or never opportunity to push their individual agendas or to prevent the adoption of reforms they object. As a result, individual divergences rather than issues and alternative solutions to them dominate the constitutional reform debates.</p> <h2>The future of constitutional reform: the need for a ‘constitutional process’</h2> <p>Turkey’s on-going constitutional reform process is unique in the history of the Turkish Republic. For the first time civilian institutions alone are drafting the country’s constitution. </p> <p>The reform process ought to serve greater purposes than the government AKP’s goal of establishing a semi-presidential regime before the 2014 presidential elections. Most crucially, the reform process could serve as a platform for an extensive public debate on the country’s long-standing and contentious problems. </p> <p>Alas, the initial experiences imply that Turkey might be missing this historic opportunity. In addition to various factors that prevent the emergence of a constitutional debate, the impossible deadline imposed on the process exacerbates the already dangerous polarisation in Turkish society. Experiences of constitution-making in polarised societies, such as Israel, India, Ireland and South Africa, show that is vital to keep the <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/0149-0508.00185/abstract">reform process open-ended</a> in order to design a democratic constitution filtered through all inclusive debates on the specific issues facing the society. <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_of_South_Africa">South Africa</a>’s search for a non-discriminatory constitution took eight years of phased negotiations during which the country was governed with an interim constitution. Notwithstanding Erdoğan’s disappointment, drafting a contemporary democratic constitution in fifteen months would be unprecedented.</p> <p>The AKP’s insistence on the semi-presidential regime also implies that Turkey might be replacing one authoritarian constitution with another one: establishing stronger executives is the common feature of <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-0343.2012.00402.x/abstract">authoritarian constitutions</a>. This is all the more worrisome, as it is not difficult to imagine that once the new constitution is adopted Erdoğan and the AKP will strongly oppose any further proposals for its amendment arguing that it is the first constitution in the Turkish Republic’s history adopted by civilians alone; thus, it should stay as it is.</p> <p>In light of all this, the Prime Minister his party and other political groups need to stop treating the reform process as a now or never opportunity, a single ‘moment’ to push their own political agendas. They need to start attaching the salience to the reform process that it deserves. </p> <p>Limitations on the freedoms of thought, expression and assembly should be lifted to engender a public debate on the country’s governance; and no strict deadline should be imposed on this debate. The Turkish political establishment owes this to the entire nation as well as future generations, whose identity will be defined by the new constitution.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/mohamed-salah-omri/tunisian-constitutionalism-and-draft-constitution-of-december-2012">Tunisian constitutionalism and the draft constitution of December 2012</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/zaid-al-ali/new-egyptian-constitution-initial-assessment-of-its-merits-and-flaws">The new Egyptian constitution: an initial assessment of its merits and flaws</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Turkey </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Turkey Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Equality International politics Constitutional reform Firat Cengiz Mon, 14 Jan 2013 10:38:02 +0000 Firat Cengiz 70350 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Parliamentary crisis: imprisoned politicians in Turkey https://www.opendemocracy.net/firat-cengiz-lars-hoffmann/parliamentary-crisis-imprisoned-politicians-in-turkey <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> There are deep divisions between the political forces in the new parliament that are not being worked out through democratic parliamentary debate. All of a sudden, the parliament is in crisis </div> </div> </div> <p>In our recent <a href="../../../../../../../../firat-cengiz-lars-hoffmann/2011-turkish-elections-and-prospects-for-turkey-eu-relations">article</a> on the June 2011 national elections in Turkey, we argued that the versatility and open-mindedness of many first time parliamentarians might lead to a strong and effective political opposition in the Turkish Parliament; something that every parliamentary democracy should cherish. Yet, barely a fortnight later, the new parliament is facing a major crisis surrounding nine newly-elected opposition MPs who are currently held in jail.</p> <p>Specifically, two MPs of the social democratic CHP (Republican People’s Party) are imprisoned under the <a href="../../../../../../../../burhan-gurdogan/turkey%E2%80%99s-ergenekon-investigation-violations-and-inconsistencies"><em>Ergenekon</em></a> investigation into an alleged coup attempt; six MPs of the Kurdish BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) were arrested under the <a href="../../../../../../../../margaret-owen/turkeys-judgement-day-trial-of-kurds">KCK</a> operation for belonging to the urban wing of the Kurdish Workers’ Party, PKK; and finally, one MP from the right-wing MHP (Nationalist Action Party) is held under the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sledgehammer_%28coup_plan%29"><em>Balyoz</em></a> investigation, yet another investigation into an alleged coup. Of these nine MPs, only one has been convicted in a court of law: Hatip Dicle, elected to Parliament for the BDP, is serving a twenty-month sentence for ‘being a member of a terrorist organisation’. The verdict against him was based on his 2007 public statement, pronouncing that ‘if the Turkish military does not stop its operations against Kurds, the PKK could legitimately rely on its right to self-defence’ (<a href="http://www.internethaber.com/hangi-vekil-neyle-suclaniyor-foto-galerisi-15986-p4.htm">source in Turkish</a>).</p> <p>Immediately after the votes were counted, the Turkish Board of Elections stripped Dicle of his parliamentary mandate due to his conviction. Because the BDP had fielded independent candidates rather than a national party list to circumvent the 10% electoral threshold, his vacated seat was allocated to the governing AKP (Justice and Development Party) rather than another BDP member. Turkish lower courts have so far prosecuted four of the remaining eight jailed MPs and refused to release any of them. The courts’ decisions on the remaining four MPs are still pending, but it appears highly unlikely that the verdicts will differ from those in the previous cases.</p> <p>Following the court rulings the current crisis escalated when the remaining 30 BDP MPs decided to boycott all parliamentary activities – including the inaugural session – until measures are taken to allow their imprisoned MPs to assume their seats. MPs from the CHP, while being present in Parliament, refused to take their inaugural oaths. Under the Turkish Constitution, it is not certain whether this will prevent the CHP members from participating in parliamentary sessions, but it certainly illustrates the deep division between the political forces in the new parliament.</p> <p>This is not the first time that the Turkish electorate has voted imprisoned or convicted candidates into office; nor is it the first time that the courts had to deal with such a situation. In 1998 the current prime minister, Mr Erdoğan, then mayor of Istanbul, was briefly imprisoned and barred from politics for five years after he had recited several verses from a nationalist poem that prosecutors deemed to be a call for sharia rule. When the AKP won power in 2002 it was only after the CHP agreed to aid the AKP to approve constitutional tweaks that Mr Erdoğan was permitted to stand in a by-election.&nbsp; Erdoğan thus became an eligible candidate and won the Siirt rerun to become Turkish Prime Minister, an office that he has held ever since. In 2007, another such crisis was circumvented when lower courts released Sebahat Tuncel&nbsp; (another BDP MP) who was imprisoned (but not convicted) for being a member of the PKK at the time of her election.</p> <p>The deviation of lower courts in the present cases from previous legal practise calls for an explanation. This is especially so since the crimes the eight jailed MPs are accused of are not covered by parliamentary immunity – meaning that a release from prison, allowing them to fulfil their political mandate, would in no way circumvent any on-going or future investigation into their alleged terrorist activities. In addition, the credibility of the entire <em>Ergenekon</em> investigation has since come into <a href="../../../../../../../../burhan-gurdogan/turkey%E2%80%99s-ergenekon-investigation-violations-and-inconsistencies">question</a>, due to various procedural inconsistencies. Moveover, in contrast to similar situations in the past, a political solution to the current problem, as was achieved for Erdoğan in 2002 seems unlikely. The AKP appears unwilling to cooperate with the other parliamentary groups on this issue. Specifically, Prime Minister Erdoğan publicly announced that the Turkish Parliament would continue its work with or without the opposition.</p> <p>Fostered by its 1997 EU candidateship Turkey has come a long way in establishing a sustainable democracy based on majoritarian institutions. This progress is most visible in the shift of power from the military to political institutions. Nevertheless, the recent crisis implies that not all political forces benefited equally from this progress, and there are still significant barriers on the way to equal democratic representation for some parts of the society. Tellingly, Hatip Dicle himself was among the four first ‘openly’ Kurdish MPs of Turkey. Elected to parliament in 1991, he was arrested in 1994 and spent more than a decade in prison for treason because he attempted to take his inaugural oath in Kurdish. Dicle’s case resulted in Turkey's <a href="http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/view.asp?item=1&amp;portal=hbkm&amp;action=html&amp;highlight=hatip%20%7C%20dicle&amp;sessionid=73056121&amp;skin=hudoc-en">conviction</a> before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Although existing ECHR case-law does not provide a perfect template, the Court’s doctrines of <a href="http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/view.asp?item=1&amp;portal=hbkm&amp;action=html&amp;highlight=Mathieu-Mohin%20%7C%20Clerfayt%20%7C%20v.%20%7C%20Belgium&amp;sessionid=73056228&amp;skin=hudoc-en">proportionality</a> and <a href="http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/view.asp?item=1&amp;portal=hbkm&amp;action=html&amp;highlight=Lykourezos%20%7C%20v.%20%7C%20Greece&amp;sessionid=73056360&amp;skin=hudoc-en">legitimate expectations</a> strongly suggest that Turkey may face further convictions over the current crisis. The fact that all parliamentary candidates (including Hatip Dicle) were pre-approved by the Turkish Board of Elections further indicates that the Turkish courts are currently navigating in precarious legal waters.</p> <p>Still, this crisis poses an opportunity for Turkey to face her political past and tackle much needed reforms of democratic governance. The AKP government has won the election on the promise for substantial constitutional reforms. In principle, such a legal overhaul is to be applauded.</p> <p>Turkey’s current constitution is a direct product of the 1980 military coup and, despite various amendments, there is general agreement that the country needs major reforms to acquire a new, contemporary constitution. However, fundamental constitutional changes should reflect a broad societal consensus rather than party politics. This is arguably the main reason why democracies with written constitutions usually require super-majorities in parliament for constitutional amendments. The fact that the AKP did not achieve an outright two-third majority in the recent elections should thus bode well for the anticipated reform process. Under the current distribution of seats, the AKP is short of three votes only to reach the required three-fifth majority to introduce a constitutional amendment through referendum. Nevertheless, it is crucial, in our opinion, that all political forces are party to finding a new constitutional basis upon which the Turkish Republic can build its future. The legitimacy of a constitution drafted without the contribution of two opposition parties will be severely questioned both inside and outside of Turkey. This will especially be so, since the issues related to the current crisis, such as the exceptionally high national electoral hurdle, lack of constitutional guarantees against trivial and excessive arrests as well as a strong commitment to freedom of expression, must rank on the top of the reform list.</p> <p>But, of course, the burden to find a solution does not only lie with the governing party. The CHP has recently taken initiatives to create international pressure to resolve the situation that include a <a href="http://www.socialistinternational.org/images/dynamicImages/files/MotionTurkey.pdf">motion</a> by the Socialist International Council stating that barring legally elected MPs from performing their parliamentary duties is a violation of international human rights law. Instead, the CHP and BDP should work on a more concrete plan to overcome the crisis. Their boycott of Parliament is not sustainable in the long-term; and it does not serve their, the electorate’s or the Turkish people’s interest. Rather the BDP and CHP should use the crisis as an opportunity for concrete agenda-setting, thus, forcing the government to implement the promised reforms through effective opposition in the Parliament. These reforms are much needed not only to resolve the on-going crisis but at the same time to provide a solid basis for the future of Turkish democracy.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Turkey </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Turkey Civil society Culture Democracy and government International politics Firat Cengiz Lars Hoffmann Fri, 08 Jul 2011 07:21:53 +0000 Firat Cengiz and Lars Hoffmann 60346 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The 2011 Turkish elections and the prospects for Turkey-EU relations https://www.opendemocracy.net/firat-cengiz-lars-hoffmann/2011-turkish-elections-and-prospects-for-turkey-eu-relations <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Turkey's recent elections have created a more open-minded parliament. For the country's future to reflect this change, both sceptical EU member states and the new Turkish government must focus on renewing the process of Turkish accession to the EU, considering the country's economic and regional political weight and the growing number of Turks that reject future EU membership </div> </div> </div> <p>The Turkish Justice and Development Party (<em>Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi</em>; hereafter AKP) has just won the third consecutive parliamentary elections in Turkey with an impressive 49.9% of the vote. The party, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, initially came to power in 2002 with a pro-European agenda and was able to count on active support by liberals and intellectuals both in Turkey and <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/nov/14/eu.turkey">abroad</a>. Yet, its nine years in office have led to the need for a re-evaluation of the party’s political agenda – particular its impact on Turkish-EU relations.</p> <h3>Background</h3> <p>No other candidate country had a longer and more intricate relationship with the EU than Turkey. It was in 1959 that Turkey applied for associate membership to the European Economic Community (EEC). In 1963 the Ankara Agreement was signed to pave the way for a Customs Union between Turkey and the then-EEC; but no substantial achievements were made until 1995 when the Customs Union was finally created. In the meantime, Turkey had applied for full membership in 1987; yet, only in 1997 the European Council confirmed that Turkey was eligible to become a full EU member. It took another eight years until the accession negotiations officially started and today eight accession negotiation chapters have been opened – though only one was provisionally closed (Science and Research) due to the <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/candidate-countries/turkey/eu_turkey_relations_en.htm">conflict</a> on the application of customs union rules by Turkey to Cyprus. Although the first AKP government paved the way for the opening of accession negotiations in 2005, only three years after, the Commission’s 2008 &nbsp;<a href="http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/press_corner/key-documents/reports_nov_2008/turkey_progress_report_en.pdf">Progress Report</a> on Turkey stated that the (then newly re-elected) AKP government ‘did not put forward a consistent and comprehensive programme of political and constitutional reforms.’ Similarly, the report pointed out that ‘the lack of dialogue and spirit of compromise between the main political parties had a negative impact on the smooth functioning of the political institutions.’ The same criticism was restated in the 2010 <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2010/package/tr_rapport_2010_en.pdf">Progress Report</a>.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Turkish enthusiasm for EU membership has significantly decreased. The 2004 Autumn <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/index_en.htm">Eurobarometer</a> showed 62% of the country looking favourably towards EU membership with only 20% opposing it. In contrast, the latest Eurobarometer data (Autumn 2010) revealed that only 42% believe EU membership would be a good thing, 32% believe it would be a bad thing and the remaining interviewees had either no opinion or thought membership would be neither good nor bad.</p> <h3>Election Campaigns</h3> <p>Whereas Turkish EU membership and the implicated legal, political and social reform progress had long been a dominant electoral campaign issue, the latest election focused, for the first time almost exclusively on internal Turkish issues - Europe remained very much in the background for all the relevant parties. In the governing AKP’s 2011 election manifesto only 2 pages (of a total of 160) were dedicated to Turkish relations with the EU. Here the AKP promised to continue to pursue the objective of EU membership while voicing disappointment and criticising the EU for breaching its own principles particularly by not being impartial in the Cyprus issue and refusing to close chapters in Turkey’s accession negotiations. Thus, the AKP did not present any strategy to overcome the current stalemate of Turkey-EU relations. Rather, the party focused on domestic issues, specifically on its goal of achieving a two-third parliamentary majority required for a unilateral constitutional amendment.</p> <p>Similar observations could be made for the three parliamentary opposition parties: the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi; hereafter CHP) entered the 2011 election with a new leadership that was voted into place just over a year before the elections. The party decided to campaign on social injustice and increasing state corruption and offered a ‘family insurance’ as a solution to extreme poverty. The party’s new leadership prepared a potentially attractive list of candidates including pro-EU names. Likewise, under the new leadership the party rid itself from the previous leadership’s fundamentally anti-EU attitude. Nevertheless, still, the party’s election campaign was dominated by internal economic and social policy issues with minimum role for the EU.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The same was true for the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi; hereafter BDP) whose known policy goals include autonomous local governance and improved minority protection. BDP is generally known to have a positive opinion on the EU, since the EU has been the main catalyst in the improvement of minority rights in Turkey. Nevertheless, in the context of this last elections, in contrast to previous elections, the BDP did not make any specific reference to the EU.</p> <p>What was maybe most striking in the run-up to the election was the position of the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (<em>Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi</em>; hereafter MHP). The party was busy with internal damage control, as its leadership was subject to a serious overhaul due to a sex scandal shortly before the elections. Due to this scandal, the MHP was expected to fall below the 10% national threshold required to enter the Turkish Parliament. Considering the shift in public opinion on EU membership it could have been expected that a nationalist party would campaign on an anti-EU ticket or at least on a Eurosceptic one. This pattern was observable, e.g. in the <a href="http://www.cepsr.com/clanek.php?ID=12">Czech Republic, Slovakia</a> and <a href="http://aei.pitt.edu/9152/">Poland</a> where right-wing parties gained significant support by cashing in on raising negative sentiments vis-à-vis the European Union. Nevertheless, like other major political parties, the MHP did not make a specific reference to the EU in its campaign, even in a negative tone.&nbsp;</p> <h3>Results</h3> <p>As is often the case, all four parties announced that they see the results as a success. The AKP was able to win the largest share of the vote of any incumbent government party in the history of Turkey with 49.9%. However, due to the increased votes for both the CHP and BDP, the AKP lost some seats and now is represented with 327 members in the 550-seat Parliament. The CHP won 25.9% of the vote and gained 23 seats, thus, has now 135 MPs. Although they fell far short of challenging the AKP for power, their improved result will give them hope to compete on a more equal footing in five years time. The nationalist MHP managed to pass the 10%-threshold and thereby prevented the AKP from obtaining its desired two-third majority required for a unilateral constitutional amendment. The support for the right-wing party fell, however, by 1 percentage point and it will now be represented by 53 MPs (down from 72).</p> <p>Due to the 10% national threshold, the Kurdish BDP was forced to field ‘independent’ candidates rather than run a cohesive party list. This tactic paid off and the party has now elected 35 MPs (up from 27). However, several of the party’s independent candidates had been arrested under the KCK operations, though only one was convicted. Turkish criminal courts have refused to release two BDP MPs arrested under the <a href="http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=eleven-detentions-in-hakkari-in-kck-operation-including-the-bdp-provincial-head-2010-06-09">KCK operations</a> as well as two CHP MPs arrested under the <a href="../../../../../../../../burhan-gurdogan/turkey%E2%80%99s-ergenekon-investigation-violations-and-inconsistencies">Ergenekon investigation</a>. As a response, the entire group of BDP MPs has announced that they will <a href="http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=gul-calls-for-calm-on-the-eve-of-a-key-week-2011-06-26">boycott</a> the Parliament until all their members are allowed to take – what they perceive to be – their rightful seat in the assembly. The CHP’s final take on this issue is yet to be declared.&nbsp;</p> <h3>Outlook</h3> <p>Once the controversy over arrested politicians is settled, one can expect that the political focus in Turkey will turn to constitutional reform. The governing AKP has yet to announce its concrete plans on the outlook of a future, new Turkish constitution. So far it has only asked its voters to provide it with a large enough majority to implement a constitutional reform unilaterally – which did not materialise in the end. Although Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promised to seek compromise with other political parties in his customary victory speech, that did not convince those familiar with the Turkish political discourse. In 2010, the AKP government introduced several constitutional amendments singlehandedly through a public referendum. Evidence suggests that the civil society and opposition were marginalised particularly during the discussion phase of that reform process. Currently, AKP is short of only three votes to reach the three-fifth majority required to follow the same strategy and to introduce constitutional amendments through referendum. The strong political desire for a unilateral constitutional amendment as well as serious challenges facing the freedom of expression has led to strong criticism of the government’s constitutional objectives in the <a href="http://www.economist.com/node/18774786">international press</a>. These are underlined by the fact that the Prime Minister himself declared in a TV interview on 5 June 2011 that there should be clear limits to the freedom of expression within Turkey. Likewise, sad <a href="http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=ipi-report-declares-turkey-world-leader-of-imprisoned-journalists-2011-04-08">statistics</a> show that the journalists under arrest in Turkey outnumber those in any other country in the world.</p> <p>With regards to the EU, we should recall that during the past few years Turks had to look on as citizens from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina (both in 2009) as well as FYR Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia (all in 2010) joined citizens <em>inter alia</em> from Argentina, Honduras and Malaysia to be given visa-free travel rights throughout the EU’s Schengen area. In contrast, Turkish citizens have to face significant bureaucratic hurdles to travel to the Union, since they share the strictest category for visa requirements with citizens of, e.g. Qatar, Uganda and Nigeria. Naturally, such a draconian visa policy impacts negatively the Turkish public opinion on the EU, particularly since free travel remains the single largest advantage of EU membership for its citizens (see <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/index_en.htm">Eurobarometer</a>). The fact that there are large Turkish communities settled in many EU Member States makes the bureaucratic hurdles to family re-union even more bothersome.</p> <p>The EU’s fear of opening its borders to travellers from Turkey appears astonishing given Turkey’s position as the world’s 17th largest economy. Turkey’s annual growth for 2010 was 8.9% and its economy is forecast to grow 6.1% and 5.5% in 2011 and 2012 respectively. These figures are not only well above the EU-average but in fact considerably outperform every single EU member state (see <a href="http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/eurostat/home/">Eurostat</a>). Although the 1995 EU-Turkey Customs Union has contributed to this economic surge, it is the result of an overall impressive economic performance that has some led to call Turkey the ‘<a href="http://www.economist.com/node/17309065">China of Europe</a>’. Naturally, it is very difficult for the public to disentangle the positive economic effects of EU-Turkey relations from other economic forces at work. The restrictions on travel, in contrast, represent an issue that Turkish citizens directly face in their individual daily lives. The negative treatment of Turkish citizens in this respect results in the emergence of a strong public belief that they are discriminated on the basis of religion.</p> <p>The need for Europe to pay much greater attention to Turkey’s domestic reform agenda as well as the imperative to keep the accession negotiations open has become even more obvious a week after the elections. The Turkish EU Ambassador Selim Kuneralp stated in an <a href="http://euobserver.com/9/32510">interview</a> that ‘in the absence of any clear perspective of accession, there's no reason why Turkey should align its legislation toward narrow EU standards.’ He further added that ‘the EU has lost its leverage on Turkey’.</p> <h3>Concluding Remarks</h3> <p>The new Turkish parliament comprises many first-time parliamentarians who do not live up to the characteristics of conventional Turkish politicians. Rather, they represent a new open-mindedness and versatility that might bode for Turkey and its political future.&nbsp; Moreover, the parliament now has the largest number of female MPs ever in Turkish history adding further to its diversity. We can only hope that this increased heterogeneity will result in a strong opposition in the Parliament that will fight to keep the EU question in the agenda. (Of course, for this hope to become reality, first the drama surrounding the arrested MPs should be resolved, so that the Parliament can convene).</p> <p>The prospect of Turkish EU membership raises difficult questions that go far beyond the much-debated religious conundrum. However, maintaining membership as a long-term goal must be in the best interest of both sides – not least for reasons of geopolitical and economic stability. For instance, a structured <a href="http://www.cer.org.uk/pdf/pb_barysch_turkey_25jan10.pdf">EU-Turkey cooperation</a> under the Union’s neighbourhood policy to promote the democratic movements in the Middle East would be beneficial to all parties. Yet, the current unsupportive political climate, especially among the many conservative EU governments (and in Turkey itself), brings into question the commitment of the member states, Turkey and the EU institutions to strengthen their political, economic and social cooperation. We argue that, following the results of the recent elections, the EU should focus on partnership strategies that aim to reverse the recent trend of rapidly dropping support for EU membership among the Turkish population. For instance, a concession on the current visa restrictions would go a very long way in rekindling the Turkish faith in the Union’s commitment to serious and sustained relations. Moreover, the EU institutions should work closely with Turkish civil society, particularly if the AKP’s announced constitutional reform does not show a clear commitment to improving democracy and the rule of law.</p> Firat Cengiz Lars Hoffmann Wed, 29 Jun 2011 15:53:35 +0000 Firat Cengiz and Lars Hoffmann 60176 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Firat Cengiz https://www.opendemocracy.net/author-profile/firat-cengiz <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Firat Cengiz </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-firstname"> <div class="field-label">First name(s):&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Firat </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-surname"> <div class="field-label">Surname:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Cengiz </div> </div> </div> <p>Firat Cengiz is lecturer in law at the University of Liverpool. Her primary research interests are in Europeanisation and multi-level governance. She is the author of <em>Antitrust Federalism in the EU and the US</em> and the co-editor of <em>Turkey and the European Union: Facing New Challenges and Opportunities</em> (with Lars Hoffmann).</p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Dr. Firat Cengiz is assistant professor in the European and International Public Law Department of Tilburg University </div> </div> </div> Firat Cengiz Mon, 27 Jun 2011 16:34:56 +0000 Firat Cengiz 60178 at https://www.opendemocracy.net