There can be little doubt that the 26 changes to their country’s constitution that were decisively approved Sunday by Turkish voters were not widely understood. The reality was that the vote was an overwhelming endorsement of the moderate Islamic government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On this showing, the prime minister’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is on track to be returned for a third term of office at elections next year.
Yet the changes are by and large a boost for Turkish democracy and another hopefully permanent step away from further military interventions in the country’s politics. The 1980 constitution that has now been amended was drawn up by the then military government, in an attempt to secure the secular political legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder and enduring inspiration of the Turkish Republic.
It included such now unacceptable provisions that military personnel could only be subject to military courts. That has now been swept away. However, within the changes to the structure of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Board of Prosecutors and Judges, or HSYK, there remain some worries. In effect the ability of politicians to mold the judiciary via appointments has been enhanced, arguably at the expense of the independence of the judiciary. Opposition parties have gone so far as accusing Erdogan of a judicial coup. It should not be forgotten, however, that it was the Constitutional Court that banned Erdogan’s previous political party from politics and has since proscribed a relatively moderate Kurdish grouping. In the final analysis, it is only voters, not judges who can accept or reject parties. Erdogan may hope in time to change the attitude of the judiciary, if only by appointing more liberal judges and prosecutors. Yet the reality is that a constitutional door has been opened into the independence of the judiciary and at some future time, a less scrupulous government may choose to use it to their advantage.
Though one senior HSYK prosecutor most unwisely went public condemning the referendum result, the majority of opposition leaders announced they accepted the outcome, albeit grudgingly. This itself is something of an advance for the political establishment, where visceral animosities have all too often crowded out sound political judgment. The military has thus far remained silent, which is as entirely as it should be. Turkey’s top brass has a job to do and that is defending the country and combating the ongoing Kurdish insurgency. Their function is to work to the direction of their elected political masters, whoever they may be. It is never their role to become the political masters themselves.
The date of Sunday’s vote will not have been lost on many Turks. It was 30 years ago to the day since the last military intervention. The generals acted then because the political process had become paralyzed and extremist groups from left and right were mounting murderous campaigns. Their decision was widely welcomed.
Today, however, the hope is that the Turkish political process will never again be allowed to collapse in the same way. Sunday’s referendum was another step toward achieving this ambition – Arabnews