Though the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) – which came into power in Turkey in 2002 – promised to change the 1982 Consititution Act, it has actually strengthened that constitution via its amendments. Facing a deadlock, those in power in Turkey have triggered a debate about preparing a new constitution again.
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) former deputy and lawyer Hasip Kaplan has commented on this ongoing discussion about the new constitution. Kaplan stated that a new constitution which did not solve the Kurdish issue could not be democratic.
Regarding the previous amendments made by the AKP, Kaplan stated that the only positive amendment made by the AKP was changing the 90th article of the constitution in 2004. According to that amendment, the internal laws that were issued had to be in accordance with international agreements. However, Kaplan noted that the AKP government does not abide by the laws it made. He pointed to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in relation to HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş; Its decision was not implemented.
According to Ferhat Çelik’s report published by Mesopotamia Agency (MA), Kaplan also stated that the AKP held a referendum for a constitutional amendment package on 12 September 2010 which was approved. Kaplan noted that four parties in parliament had formed a Constitution Conciliation Committee on 19 October 2011 and noted that: “It undertook the most comprehensive work ever made until today under the positive atmosphere of a peace process”. He added that the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) had been invited officially for constitutional negotiations.
Kaplan continued: “After that, the AKP had put forward a constitutional amendment, including the presidental regime, through parliament. The amendment, including the establishment of a Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) – which placed political tutelage on the judiciary – as well as the regime shift that was carried out on 16 April 2017, was approved via a referendum with very few votes difference. There were claims that the referendum was rigged in a number of contexts.
Referring to the question as to whether a democratic constitution could be prepared or not, Kaplan stated: “Aiming to change the agenda, nowadays the AKP wants a new civil constitution. Their aims are paving the way for the president to become a candidate for the third time and for the electoral system to be changed at a time when the circumstances are not appropriate and there is an absence of reconciliation. The other goal is implementing amendments including shutting down the HDP and preventing it from receiving a treasury grant”. Kaplan also stated that the presidential system had failed in two years.
Regarding the 1921 Constitution Act which was heavily discussed during the debates about the new constitution, Kaplan said: “The ‘people of Turkey’ were referred to in the 1921 Constitutional Act. There had been an emphasis on equal citizenship: the topic of autonomy was clear in that constitutional act. There were Kurdistan and Lazistan assemblies. By the time of the 1924 Constitutional Act, other peoples were ignored and a constitution was made which was based on ‘Turkishness’, with a mindset of denialist and assimilationist attitudes/policies. There was no sense of equality and freedom in that constitution”.
Division of powers
Former deputy and lawyer Kaplan also commented on the divison of powers and compared the systems of the United states (US) with Turkey. Kaplan said: “The AKP’s presidential system has nothing to do with the system that is implemented in the US. Because they introduce a unity of power instead of a division of power. Also, there is no ‘brake and balance’ system as well”. Kaplan stated that the system implemented in Turkey resembled the systems that have been implemented in some South American countries, which are called ‘Pronunciemento’, that is, ‘military coup models’.
The Kurdish issue
Referring to the main elements that are required in a new constitution, Kaplan said: “Three main elements are indispensable: 1) Political democracy, 2) Economic democracy, 3) Cultural-pluralism. There is not a proper situation for each of them currently”. Kaplan added that a constitution which did not solve the Kurdish issue could not be democratic: “The ones who had said ‘Kurdish people are not a minority but a constituent element alongside Turkish people’ should leave denialist, destructive and assimilationist attitudes. They should leave the mindset of the Turk-Islam synthesis – one language, one nation, one religion – which is the formal ideology of the government”.