Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Talking Turkey: As Turkey Again Eyes EU Membership Requirements, Pressure Builds to Liberalize Turkish Competition

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Talking Turkey: As Turkey Again Eyes EU Membership Requirements, Pressure Builds to Liberalize Turkish Competition

Article excerpt

TALKING TURKEY: As Turkey Again Eyes EU Membership Requirements, Pressure Builds to Liberalize Turkish Constitution

"Turkey should not enter the new millennium with a Constitution whose depth of legitimacy is close to zero." These words came not from a radical reformer or barricade politician, but from a much more surprising source: the head of Turkey's Supreme Court of Appeals.

Speaking in Ankara at the September inauguration of the new judicial year, Judge Sami Selcuk went on to describe the constitution as having been "imposed" on the Turkish people in a "fictional referendum" and entirely lacking in "structural legitimacy." He also said all this to an audience that included President Suleyman Demirel, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and the chief of the General Staff, General Huseyin Kivrikoglu.

Others who have voiced the same conclusions may have ended up behind the bars of Selcuk's justice system's jails. So the absence of any such reaction on this occasion gave rise to speculation that some substantive and significant reform may be in the offing for Turkey's much maligned Constitution.

Indeed, within a few days of Selcuk's speech, Prime Minister Ecevit himself was saying that his three-party coalition government would offer concrete legislative proposals to amend the Constitution when parliament reopened. And when parliament opened its doors in October, President Demirel added his not insubstantial weight to calls for reform.

"The 1982 Constitution," Demirel said in reference to the current law, "is not totally democratic in terms of its preparation, proposals, acceptance and, lastly, in terms of its conditions and content."

Since the Turkish republic was founded in 1923, it has had a variety of different constitutions. In the post-World War II era, President Ismet Inonu first set the ball rolling by introducing a multi-party system. But it backfired badly on him personally as his Republican People's Party lost the first two-party election to Adnan Menderes' Democratic Party.

Menderes, and this first experiment, came to an abrupt end with the 1960 military coup, followed by the execution of Menderes.

The new Constitution introduced in 1961 is a document most remembered today for its highly progressive, democratic nature.

"Unfortunately," says Haluk Sahin, a leading columnist for the respected daily Radikal, "this changed in a conservative direction in 1971," -- the year of the next military coup -- "and then was thrown aside completely by the 1980 coup."

The present Constitution was drafted largely by the military and was presented to referendum in 1983 without alternatives. Even so, it was only passed by a small margin.

Since then it has seen a number of changes. Most notably, the political rights of the politicians banned and arrested in the 1980 coup -- a group which includes most of Turkey's current party leaders -- were restored early on, and in 1985 students and professors were also allowed to join parties.

The third change to have occurred was the ending of the state monopoly on broadcasting. The fourth change, most recently, was the dropping of a military judge from the State Security Courts, a move prompted by European complaints during the trial of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

But that's more or less it. …

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