TESEV: What Do We Expect from the New Constitution? | by Editor Can Paker*

A report entitled “Field Research on Views and Expectations of the New Constitution,” produced by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) in conjunction with KONDA Research and Consultancy, was released to the public last week.

The survey, based on face-to-face interviews with 2,700 adults, solicited opinions on controversial aspects of the new constitution, including identity, secularism, type of government, native-language rights, the Directorate of Religious Affairs and religious education, and the characteristics of the state.

Though the results do support the view that Turkey’s society is changing and transforming in a positive way, it also revealed some of society’s ambivalences, insecurities, and ossified mentalities. The survey data draw attention to the fact that, while Turkey’s society is demanding more freedom, it also wants this to happen gradually and without inflicting any more wounds on society. In this respect, we must again stress that the new constitution that is to form the basis for Turkey’s society must be written with the full confidence of actors and institutions that both represent society and are conscious of the responsibility this entails. The survey results show us that Turkish politics is in the process of normalization and that individuals within society are forming unexpected coalitions to produce new visions, options, and solutions.

Indicators of Change

Public-opinion surveys in Turkey over the last ten to fifteen years clearly show that the strengthening of the middle class has resulted in a stronger societal demand for individualism. This fast change is acting both at the level of society and in every facet of an individual’s life. One of the most striking examples of this to be found in the TESEV survey was the 77-percent support given to the statement “The judiciary is responsible for protecting the individual, not the state.” On the other hand, the proportion of those saying “When the reputation and interests of the state are at stake, the courts should be able to take the side of the state against the individual” was as high as 45 percent. I believe this apparent contradiction is actually a natural indicator of the fast changes that we are experiencing. Looking at natural events, too, a period of chaos always precedes the final stages of institutional change; values present before the start of the process may overlap temporarily with the values gained as a result of the process.

As the findings of this survey show, during the process of democratization underway in Turkey today, we see that both democratic values and values that are incompatible with democracy may coexist in the same person or same society, and that this is a very natural aspect of change.

Ever since October 2011, when the parliament formed a commission to draft the new constitution, TESEV has continued to be active in supporting the constitutional process. Within the framework of the Constitution Watch project, TESEV has been critically analyzing political parties, the media, and societal actors—in other words, all normal actors participating in the political structures of a democratic country. By monitoring the work of the parliament’s Constitutional Reconciliation Commission; the topics it discusses and the conclusions on which it can agree; the status of societal participation in the process; and the ways in which the process is treated in the press, TESEV acts both as an institution of record for the constitutional process and one that can recommend further steps as necessary. The work of monitoring and regular monitoring reports are shared with the public on a web site created especially for this project (in English: turkeyconstitutionwatch.org; in Turkish: anayasaizleme.org ).

We believe that TESEV is filling a vital gap in the public sphere during this process. In one clear example, in our second monitoring report (covering the months of February-June 2012) we classified 114 NGO and civil society organizations’ contributions to the Reconciliation Commission, determined the points on which agreement was reached and on which disagreements remained, and on this basis offered analysis on how constitutional issues ought to be treated. [*]

Red Lines

Our initial motivation in doing such work was the fact that parliament and the media had at that point not sufficiently considered or analyzed the demands raised by civil society. It was the fact that the political parties sitting at the negotiating table were focused, as usual, on debating the “red lines” rather than on international norms and societal demands. In order for society to be able to participate in a process such as the drafting of a constitution, the mechanisms by which the debates of society are injected into political decision-making must be advanced and effective.

Being Able to Critique Ourselves

All throughout the process of monitoring, we have seen how NGOs were unable to intervene constructively in politics and decision-making. Indeed, it would be a fruitful exercise to critique ourselves on the limited role played by public-sphere societal actors in the new constitutional process, particularly in the proposals submitted, but also at various stages of the process. We might think that their isolation from the new constitutional process might have been caused by the fact that political polarization left no space in which an intervention into the process could occur, or by skepticism of the administration or the ability of the parties to come to an agreement. Yet even though politics may come to an impasse and there is no room left for intervention, if we are serious about democratization and political reform we must continue as civil society organizations to strive to define our own political agenda. Based on the press reviews we have compiled under the TESEV platform for over a year, we are able to see that the media have not played a sufficient part in monitoring the process in the name of society, and that society’s distrust and diffidence regarding social actors has only been exacerbated. But it’s still not too late to do something about it…

The ongoing constitutional process would be positively affected if citizens, too, would demand more from civil society, the press, and, of course, the political parties they vote for. In order to see whose views are being excluded during the emerging constitutional process and whose views are being represented, we need to raise our voices and mobilize, newly conscious of the means we can use to make our voices heard. According to the results of the latest survey we’ve shared with the public, 78 percent of respondents want a constitution designed and agreed upon by all segments of society. 74 percent support a process by which both the Parliament and the public would have to approve the constitution before it came into effect. 53 percent expect the new constitution to solve the Kurdish issue. Society wants the basic principles of the constitution to stress the role of justice in combating injustice, equality for all kinds of diverse citizens, and freedom for everyone to live in the way they want. Furthermore, 69 percent support the idea that the state, with this new foundational document in hand, should adopt a stance of renewal and atonement that faces up to the past.

The Potential to Cause Harm

These data clearly show that Turkey’s society expects this Parliament to build a new constitution and a new future for society. I believe that the way political parties are opposed to these societal demands and create obstacles for the constitutional drafting process will cause great harm both to them and to the democratization of Turkey. Turkey’s society expects the Parliament they elected to produce a constitution that “features safeguards,” “reduces risk,” and “instills confidence.” The Parliament should live up to this historic responsibility. Meanwhile, civil society and the media should take the historic responsibility incumbent on them seriously by preventing the process from coming to a standstill.

*President, TESEV Board of Directors

Translator: Alex Balistreri

Originally published as: Can Paker, “Yeni Anayasadan Ne Bekliyoruz?” [What Do We Expect from the New Constitution?], Milliyet, 27 November 2012.

[*] You can read all of the proposals submitted by civil society organizations online in Turkish at anayasaizleme.org. These have been deleted from the Turkish Parliament’s web site.