Turkish parties lock horns ahead of referendum


The Turkish government avoided early elections yesterday (7 July) when judges approved its proposed constitutional reforms. However, the changes will need to be approved in a referendum, with the main opposition party already campaigning against them. EURACTIV Turkey contributed to this article.

Turkey is heading for a September referendum, after the Constitutional Court announced late on Wednesday it had rejected a request by the main opposition CHP party to annul the reform package.

There were only minor changes to the proposal by the ruling AK party, according to reports.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an was widely expected to call early elections had the Constitutional Court introduced major changes to the proposed constitutional reforms.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu said his party would campaign against the constitutional amendment package ahead of a referendum due on 12 September.

"Politicisation of the judiciary will cause separation in society," K?l?çdaro?lu said, according to the Zaman daily.

K?l?çdaro?lu, a former civil servant dubbed 'the Ghandi of Turkey', was recently elected leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP), the country's oldest political party, which is affiliated to Socialist International, the worldwide association of social democratic, socialist and labour parties.

Analysts said a less static CHP that re-established its social democratic credentials and shunned the nationalism of K?l?çdaro?lu's predecessor, Deniz Bayka, would stand a better chance in next year's parliamentary elections.

K?l?çdaro?lu said the constitutional amendments would put the public prosecutor under the instructions of the justice ministry, and therefore his party was against the amendments.

The CHP leader said he was aware of the shortcomings of the current constitution. He agreed that Turkey needed a more contemporary and robust constitution, and pledged to prepare a new constitution in a new parliament under CHP rule.

Kader Sevinç, the Brussels-based CHP representative to the EU, told EURACTIV that her party was critical of some articles in the constitutional reform package, saying they would pave the way towards authoritarian control by the government over the judiciary.

"The verdict of the Constitutional Court that annulled some articles is positive but unsatisfactory for a stronger and European Turkish democracy," Sevinç said.

"However, the package still has articles increasing the authority of the Minister of Justice to the detriment of the principles of rule of law and the citizen's right to challenge before the courts the impartiality of the public prosecution. It includes undemocratic aims of the ruling AKP. The CHP promises to promote a brand new Constitution which will be a case of the best model for European democracy," she explained.

Sevinç added that there was also a very clear breach of the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, which stated that "electors must not be called to vote simultaneously on several questions without any intrinsic link," given that they may be in favour of one and against another. 

The Venice Commission repeatedly stressed that a duly, open, informed and timely involvement of all political forces and civil society in the process of reform is necessary to achieve wide consensus, even if this inevitably takes time and effort, she argued.

"We invite the European Commission and the European Parliament to protect the credibility of the EU principles in explicitly warning the AKP government on the issue of independence and impartiality of the judiciary's power," Sevinç declared.

Acting Chairman of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) Kadir Özbek said "with this constitutional change, we have aimed no violation of separation of forces principle. I believe nothing has changed. The Justice Ministry will still have very effective connections with the board. And I hope that our citizens will see this".

"This is a game being played before people. There were some remarks belittling the judiciary. But this is neither a reform not a regulation for the removal of difficulties people suffer. This is simply a regulation to change the structure of the establishment," he said. 

Emine Ülker Tarhan, president of the Judges and Prosecutors Association (YARSAV), said: "The executive force will select the judiciary force members. With the change in the structure of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, the Minister of Justice will be the key person. This is not acceptable. Only a slight change has been made to the constitution. The battle is not over."

Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu, leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP), said: "We as a political party believe that the principle of separation of powers is very critical for Turkey. We will have respect for the Constitutional Court's rulings and believe in them. But the Court, in return, should underline the fact that the decision is based on the rule of law. We are not satisfied by the decision. We know that the principle of separation of forces is still in danger."

Legal expert Professor Rona Aybay said that with all the amendments it had been confirmed that the Constitutional Court has the ability to conduct substantial examinations on some points as well as procedural examinations.

The Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE) warned the AKP government: "Members of the Council for the Judiciary should not be active politicians, members of parliament, the executive or the administration. This means that neither the head of the state, if he/she is the head of the government, nor any minister can be a member of the Council for the Judiciary."

Turkey's parliament approved on 7 May 2010 a bill introduced by the ruling AK Party to reform the constitution, clearing the way for a referendum (EURACTIV 07/05/10).

The bill lacked the two-thirds majority needed to instantly become law, but secured 336 votes in the 550 seat parliament – enough to put the proposals to a referendum.

The main opposition party has said it will appeal to the Constitutional Court to block the referendum, which it said would cement the AK Party's grip on power.

Critics accuse the AK Party of using reforms to undermine the independence of the judiciary and install supporters in top judicial posts, as part of a long-term strategy to roll back secularism in Turkey.

Subscribe to our newsletters