12 September 1980. Following years of escalating left-wing, right-wing violence within Turkey, provoked by the military, (with the backing of imperialist forces), leaving an estimated 5,000 people dead, including three terrible massacres by fascists (overseen by the police) of the left-wing workers in Taksim Square (1977), left-wing students in Bahcelievler (1978) and 111 Alevi’s in Kahramanmaras (1978); the Turkish Chief of the General Staff declared a coup d’etat imposing martial law throughout the country and suspended the constitution. 1982 saw the establishment of a new constitution, or as the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) has labelled it, a ‘military constitution’ despite the fact it was voted in with a 91% majority vote in a referendum, not to mention the fact that almost every article from the so called ‘military constitution’ has been amended, since then, by successive governments.
Exactly 20 years on from one of the darkest periods in Turkish history, Turkey now finds itself at another crossroads. The new constitutional changes which the Turkish public will be voting on at the referendum on 12 September 2010 will decide Turkey’s path for the future.
Of the proposed amendments to 26 of the articles, the most controversial point of debate lies in the change to the law of who controls the Judges and Prosecutors; a change which would significantly change the balance of power in Turkey. Under the 1982 constitution, Judges and Prosecutors are free from the control of the government, as one would expect it to be in any democracy, as it eliminates the possibility of punishment being used as a political tool. However, under the proposed changes, members of parliament will get to choose the majority of the members of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which in effect puts the HSYK under the control of the ruling party. Brings to mind a dictatorship, does it not? Dangerous, I think.
A second point of contention lies in the amendment to the way a political party can be closed. Not a surprising amendment suggested by the AKP, who narrowly survived being closed down in 2007 by 1 vote, and constantly run the risk of going to the constitutional court again for closure. Under the changes, the power to open a case against the closure of a political party moves from the chief prosecutor of the appeals court to the National assembly. Again, since the majority is held by the AKP, the power will shift from the independent courts to the AKP. So, in essence, no major party can be closed and the rest remain in the hands of the non-political, independent courts of law…Sorry, my mistake, the AKP. Does anyone else think that a dictatorship is on the agenda?
The main opposition party, The Republican People’s Party (CHP), despite their staunch opposition to the AKP, actually agreed to 23 of the 26 articles up for amendment. The furore surrounding the referendum lies in AKP’s insistence on there being a 1 vote, take it or leave it, approach to the package. Individual votes on the controversial 3 articles would most likely deal the AKP an embarrassing defeat, but by bundling the 23 democratic amendments along with the 3 ultimately undemocratic amendments regarding the HSYK, closing of political parties, and the constitutional court, the AKP are forcing the public’s hand.
The AKP government are slowly showing their real intent. Step by step they are taking control of key institutions within Turkey and the next stage is the judiciary. A ‘Yes’ vote on 12th September 2010 will strengthen their hand like nothing before, tipping the scales of Lady Justice in favour of the ‘Justice’ and development party.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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