Democratization and the Politics of Constitution-Making in Turkey

Democratization and the Politics of Constitution-Making in Turkey

Democratization and the Politics of Constitution-Making in Turkey

Democratization and the Politics of Constitution-Making in Turkey


The Turkish experience in constitution-making can be described as a series of missed opportunities to create political institutions based on broad consensus. None of the three republican constitutions (those of 1924, 1961, and 1982), nor the Ottoman Constitution of 1876 was written by a Constituent or a Legislative Assembly broadly representative of social forces or through a process of negotiations, bargaining, and compromise. Consequently, they all had weak political legitimacy. No doubt, the prospects of EU membership provided a powerful stimulus for these constitutional reforms as well as the nine harmonization packages. With these reforms, Turkey has sufficiently satisfied the Copenhagen political criteria and started accession negotiations with the EU. It would be wrong to assume, however, that these reforms were simply an outcome of Turkey's desire to join the EU. They also responded to the society's demands for a more democratic and liberal political system.


Constitution-making, particularly during democratic transitions, is an excellent opportunity to build political institutions that will enjoy broad support from society and its political (and other) elites. Both the constitution-making process and its outcome (i.e., constitutional choices) are crucial aspects of the transition to and consolidation of democracy. Andrea Bonime-Blanc has argued that

constitution-making is at once the most varied and the most concen
trated form of political activity during the transition. In it, political
maneuvering, bargaining and negotiations take place and the politi
cal positions, agreements and disagreements between groups and
leaders come to the fore. How the constitution drafters handle these
issues may tell us crucial things about the transition and about the
regime it leads to. The general character of both the process and its
outcome may reveal clues about the new regime's potential for sta
bility or instability.

Put differently, the constitution-making process influences not only the mode of transition to democracy but also, and perhaps more importantly, prospects for the consolidation of democracy. We argue here that a consensual or consociational style of constitution-making tends to considerably increase the chances for democratic consolidation.

Thus, it seems no accident that some of the most stable democratic constitutions of the post-World War II period (the best-known examples are the German, Italian, and Spanish constitutions) are the products of broadly representative constituent assemblies and a highly consensual style of constitution making. In Italy, the Constituent Assembly elected in 1946 was dominated by three major parties (the Christian Democrats, the Socialists, and the Communists). Although . . .

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