Nod for change

Nod for change

A referendum on amending the constitution that has won a strong ‘yes’ vote will enable Turkey to take decisive steps towards democratisation. The current constitution was made when the country was under military rule. The proposed changes include ensuring greater accountability of the military to civilian courts. The immunity that leaders of the 1990 coup have enjoyed so far will go. Besides, parliament’s power to appoint judges will be enhanced, and gender equality will get a boost as will the rights of workers to participate in trade union activity. People will have the right to strike on political issues.

Roughly 58 per cent of those who participated in the referendum have endorsed changes to the constitution. Of course, given the narrow scope of referendums, where voters have a choice between voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ only, it is hard to say how much support individual changes enjoy among the population. For instance, some of those who voted in favour of constitutional changes are concerned about the subordination of the judiciary to the executive. There is concern too that the right of parliament to appoint judges could open the doors to politicisation of the judiciary. Opposition parties fear that the ruling
Justice and Development Party (AKP) will stuff the judiciary with loyalists.

The shaking off of a military-era constitution will mark an important milestone in Turkey’s transition to a democracy. The country has struggled with decades of military rule, either direct or indirect. Military rule was supported by the west as it was seen to be a modernising force, an important bulwark against Turkey’s slide to religious conservatism.

They were wrong. Turkey’s Islamist parties, especially the ruling AKP, have shown that they are not conservative. The proposed reform of the constitution that was spearheaded by the AKP government has thus won international support. With a new constitution that is more democratic and sensitive to human rights, Turkey will move closer to European Union standards. Its chances of becoming an EU member have brightened considerably.

Simply having a democratic constitution isn’t enough. Turkey’s parties and politicians must function democratically, ensure that no arm of the government dominates the others and respect civil rights. The military has been significantly sidelined. It is unlikely to be happy with the changes and will be waiting for opportunity to return to the political arena.

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