Reform in Turkey: For a new civilian constitution!

“The ‘democratic opening’ aimed notably at addressing the Kurdish issue has produced only limited results. The security situation in the Southeast has worsened with a resurgence of attacks by [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK/Kongra-Gel…”

The European Union is preparing to praise a set of amendments recently made to Turkey’s military-drafted Constitution but will reiterate its call for a new civilian constitution, saying it is needed to strengthen democracy in the candidate country.
“The constitutional amendments are an important step in the right direction,” the European Commission is expected to say in a document outlining the 27-nation bloc’s enlargement strategy.

“A new civilian constitution would provide a solid base for a further strengthening of democracy in Turkey, in line with European standards and the EU accession criteria,” the document, a copy of which was seen by Today’s Zaman, reads. It is due to be released on Nov. 9 along with an annual progress report that thoroughly assesses Turkey’s efforts to meet the EU’s accession criteria. It will also call for “broad public consultation involving all political parties and civil society” so as to strengthen support for constitutional reform and “proper implementation” of the reforms passed through relevant legislation.

The current Constitution, drafted during military rule in 1982, underwent significant reform when voters approved a government-backed package of amendments during a referendum on Sept. 12. The changes further curtail powers of the military by limiting the authority of military courts and ending constitutional immunity from prosecution for leaders of the 1980 coup; reform the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which appoints senior judicial figures; and overhaul the Constitutional Court by allowing the president and Parliament to elect all members. The changes, which critics had claimed would establish government control over the judiciary, was approved by 58 percent of the voters, while 42 percent voted against.

The EU, which has long called for judicial reform, is expected to welcome the changes as advancing Turkey’s reform efforts. The draft of the strategy document says the reforms “address a number of priorities in the areas of judiciary and fundamental rights.” According to the document, changes made to the structure of the HSYK make the top judicial body “more representative of the judiciary as a whole.”

Under the changes, the number of HSYK members rose from seven to 21. Thousands of judges and prosecutors voted in elections earlier this month to elect 10 members to the HSYK. In remarks earlier this week, Stefan Füle, the EU’s enlargement commissioner, welcomed the election of new HSYK members by direct vote of judges and prosecutors.

Shortcomings in freedoms

Turkey, a candidate to join the EU since 1999, opened accession talks with the bloc in 2005 but little progress has been achieved since then due to the continued division of Cyprus and growing opposition to Turkey’s membership in many European countries. The EU also complains that the pace of reforms in Turkey is slow.

Highlighting deficiencies in Turkey’s record, the strategy document says the accession negotiations have “reached a demanding stage requiring Turkey to step up its efforts in maintaining established conditions.” It says: “Regarding fundamental rights, freedom of expression and of the media needs to be strengthened in Turkey both in law and practice. A number of shortcomings remain in the exercise of the freedom of religion. Progress is also needed regarding women’s rights and gender equality and trade union rights. The ‘democratic opening’ aimed notably at addressing the Kurdish issue has produced only limited results. The security situation in the Southeast has worsened with a resurgence of attacks by [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK/Kongra-Gel. Some progress has been made in the fight against corruption.”

Today’s Zaman

October 30, 2010

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