From Arab Spring to Turkish Autumn

November 7, 2016
The EU summit held in Brussels on December 17, 2004 decided that accession negotiations with Turkey would start on October 3, 2005. The process was accordingly launched at the Luxembourg Intergovernmental Conference. This was two years after the Justice and Development Party (JDP) came to power when “democratic reform” was high on Turkey’s agenda. In early April 2009 President Obama visited Turkey. He addressed the Turkish Parliament and referred to Turkey’s strong, vibrant, secular democracy as Ataturk’s greatest legacy. Regional countries were looking at Turkey with envy.Seven years later we still have the JDP in power but a metamorphosed Turkey. At the beginning, there were worries about authoritarian tendencies replacing democratic reform, Turkey turning into a party- state. Then, as these worries kept deepening, we had a horrific coup attempt during which hundreds lost their lives. We have had coups before but nothing like this. Government’s response was declaring state of emergency. Now we are concerned that “democratic order” is being replaced by “state of emergency” and legislative process by “rule by decree”. JDP leaders are constantly expressing their readiness to bring back the death penalty.

The government says that Turkey’s state of emergency is no different than those of EU countries and that they would have reacted in exactly the same way to a coup attempt by a terrorist organization. Firstly, a coup attempt in EU countries is not even a theoretical possibility. No insidious group would be able to infiltrate state structures like they did in Turkey. Secondly, speaking in a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara on October 24, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that Turkey has every right to defend and protect itself, and it is Ankara’s decision to extend the state of emergency but he also stressed that Turkey must commit itself to acting within the rule of law as the post-coup state of emergency is being implemented. He said:
“In France, the state of emergency does not allow for the transfer of legislative power to the executive. Parliament retains all powers of lawmaking and the independence of the judiciary is guaranteed fully. Our state of emergency is not like yours.”

Beyond the political turmoil caused by the coup attempt the country remains deeply polarized. Acts of terror are continuing to take their toll. The country is under the grip of lawlessness. Turkey is in the middle of regional chaos yet our external policies lack foresight, transparency and public scrutiny. On world stage, we are behaving as if we are competing for first prize in an unpopularity contest. We are at war with the world because we claim that we are always right and everybody else is wrong. Countries which are trying to work with us do so not because they embrace what we represent or believe that we have overlapping interests but because we are right here, neighboring Iraq and Syria. In a nutshell, we appear to have lost direction.

And, at such an unfavorable juncture, the JDP leadership is now pushing for a new constitution aiming at a presidential system “befitting Turkey’s needs”.
Turkey’s current 1982 Constitution has been amended numerous times but our political parties still regard it as the legacy of a military coup and wish to write a new one. For some, this is a knee-jerk reaction rather than a reasoned position. The amended Constitution may not be the perfect one, but it has not prevented democratic reform. When the EU decided that Turkey had met the Copenhagen criteria and launched the accession process in 2005, this very Constitution was in force. The last thing we need at this moment is opening a constitutional Pandora’s box. If there is a will, even under this Constitution, sky would be the limit for our democracy. The JDP has always claimed that it is a party of the faithful and nobody disagrees with that. The question is whether or not it has faith in democracy.

We are approaching mid-November and one can already feel the winter chill…

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