Is Deliberative Democracy a Solution?

12 February 2010
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The Athenian government was based on direct democracy which ended in 322 BC. About two thousand years after the end of the ancient Greek Parliament, democracy re-emerged. But the new kind of democracy was representative rather than direct and the nature of political deliberation changed.


Actually there are various definitions of deliberative democracy. But the base of deliberative democracy is the notion of citizens and the representatives in the Parliament proceed about the problems that concern the public and their solutions. In deliberate democracy there is a mutual willingness to understand each side’s questions, concerns, views.  Also deliberate democracy comprises consensus on the acceptable solutions. In this type of democratic administrations it must be assumed that in the public sphere, citizens do not have constant interests, demands or choices. On the contrary it is assumed that in a deliberative atmosphere public sphere procures various opportunities for the citizens to achieve mutual sensibility and liaise.


Today deliberative democracy is presented as an alternative to liberal democracy which is the dominant political system of societies. However Sitembölükbaşı underlines that because of its fundamental characteristic based on pluralism it remains insufficient especially in minority rights, gendered discrimination and cultural problems (1).  


On 2002 November general elections Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power and this lead the public to ask whether Islam and democracy will ever sort together. The democratization process that AKP started with regard to European Union adaptation process has a chance of success. But the level of the success depends on taking the right approach to deliberative process.


Since became the party in power in 2002 the AKP put into practice an expanded reform agenda as the final action of the long lasting membership process of Turkey into the EU. According to an Associated Press report, Prime Minister Erdoğan said the “time has come for a radical solution” to end the conflict, and constrain the nationalist front to support the effort for Kurdish opening. “Turkey has to face this problem and solve it through democracy; we will take steps at any cost” (2). Fundamentally democratic opening is a movement that aims to abolish the sources of terrorism. While coming to power, Taşkın states that, AKP “declared its ideology as believing in conservative democracy by distancing itself from the legacy of political Islam” (3).  It is noteworthy that this declaration can also be seen as the deliberate strategy of filling the space in centre-right front.


The government announced that, for a more democratic country, a Constitutional change is required. Also TGNA (4) Chairman of Human Rights Investigation Commission Zafer Üskül explained that a constitutional change is necessary to actualize the democratic opening.  Besides, to establish peace with Kurds the government must cope with the oppositions that come from the nationalist front. Because as mentioned in the Associated Press report, according to the Nationalist Action Party leader Devlet Bahçeli: “The problem of terrorism has become the Kurdish problem.”


The conflict in the South Eastern area has settled since 1990s but Kurdish conflict still remains a barrier on Turkey’s path to modernity and accession to the EU. Since 15 August 1984, 40.000 people have died. But Turkey is now on the corner of normalization, settlement and democratization. The process of democratic opening will be more fruitful if it would be crowned with a new Constitution that based on social deliberation. The Constitutional amendment is also important in terms of a more civil society. 


Furthermore there is a phenomenon of “internal other(s)” which are the Kurdish citizens. Besides the Kurdish “other,” Islam is also in this category. In mid-1980s, liberalization allowed the Islamic oriented groups to “become active outside state control and to bring themselves to the centre of political life” (5): “This activism was fuelled by a regime that lacked legitimacy and refused to engage in an inclusive democratization project, relying instead on an ailing Kemalist ideology. This phenomenon was perceived by the state as threatening, for it directly challenged the normative and practical principles of the hegemonic Kemalist ideology. Thus, the state responded with strict anti-Islamist measures under the orders of the Turkish generals.”


Turkey has experienced three military coups which interrupted Turkish democracy. Instead of the one that arranged in 1982, there is a need for a civil Constitution which will bring global democratic governance. Turkey is not a “third-wave” but a “second-wave” democracy thus it is in a transition period (6). On the other hand Turkey is advantageous than over many countries which have new democracies because Turkey has a long history of constitutionalism and rule of law. Constitutionalism originated in 1839. This was the reform era that made the Ottoman Empire as the first Muslim state that had a Constitution.


The Constitutional change includes gender equality. Also state Security Courts will be abolished, Court of Auditors control the military expenditure, the military member in RTÜK and YÖK will be removed, the sections about death penalty in the Constitution will be sorted out, international agreements will be accepted as superior to the Constitution, the criminals can be judged in international courts, and lastly the dictums that restrict the freedom of the press will be cancelled. If we look at the Constitutional amendment package it seems necessary in terms of Turkey’s democratization. It is natural that during the process of Constitutional change “political manoeuvring, bargaining and negotiations take place and the political oppositions, agreements and disagreements between groups and leaders come to the fore” (7). In this sense there are some issues that Republican People’s Party (CHP) opposes.


First of all, CHP supports affirmative action for the women in TGNA. However the deputies of AKP told that women deputies from the AKP were against affirmative action. They added women experience the real discrimination on headscarf issue. But CHP objected to this declaration. According to the opposition party, there is no problem with the headscarf but the real problem is the turban. Furthermore the Court of Auditors demanded to take control of every state institution including the funds and change its name to Supreme Association of Financial Adjudication which is against the Constitution. This was the second reason of the debate between AKP and CHP.


Actually how the Constitution drafters undertake these problems show whether the new political order will be stable or instable. In this respect a Constitution which based on consensus or in other words a consensual Constitution making is crucial to the harmonic society in Weberian terms. So it is not a surprise that the most stable post Second World War democratic constitutions are belong to Germany, Italy and Spain. In these democracies the process of Constitution making was managed by a consensual style. The Constitution making process in Spain can be “a model of consensual politics where parties of widely differing ideologies, through accommodation, formed the predominant multilateral (consensual) coalition” (8).


To make this democratic civil constitution real, it is necessary to promote social dynamics by putting forward a serious collective effort and collaboration. In this democratization process an extensive participation is aimed as suitable with the essence of deliberate democracy. With this civil initiative a dynamic is expected to catch which can meet the various concerns and demands of the public. In this spirit the spur of the democratization process is increasing the opportunities for Kurdish citizens by increasing the democratic standards. In other words the government is targeting to settle the Kurdish dispute by extending rights and freedoms. According to The Guardian’s news report President Gül announced in May 2009 that the opening is a “historic opportunity” for the solution of the Kurdish problem (9). Also he said “there is a common understanding among the state's agencies. I am very hopeful… Whatever you call it, the south-eastern question, the Kurdish issue, or the terrorism problem, we have to find a solution… The best way to do this is to raise democratic standards in Turkey.”


In this context again The Guardian refers to Turkish daily Hürriyet that the Kurdish opening includes “enhanced political, economic, language and educational rights, and the reinstatement of banned Kurdish names in south-eastern Anatolian towns. Article 5 of the anti-terror law, which has been used to imprison children for stone-throwing, is also said to be under review” (10).


The issue with the Alevi citizens is also problematic. As Taşkın emphasizes, it turns out, the reality within the AKP is the “underrepresentation” or “non-representation” of the Alevis. Even in the previous National Assembly “there was not a single Alevi among the 351 deputies of the AKP.” This situation is controversial when the AKP’s success of reaching the Alevi citizens compared with the party’s success in the elections. According to the article “in the 2007 elections, three Alevis were elected from the AKP lists”.


In this article Taşkın refers to Hakan Yavuz, a contemporary observer of Islamism underlines that the centre-right and the AKP identify the moral majority with the Sunni-Hanafi Muslims. That means “while the AKP believes that it represents the values of the nation, it has not still developed a political discourse recognizing and protecting the differences that were silenced in its abstracted view of nation … what the party understands from the nation is restricted to the Hanafi-Turkish element and the demands introduced by the party are also limited to those of the Hanafi-Turks.”


Kurdish opening still does not have a prescription to pursue in the process. However, Alevi opening has came to some reconciled articles to carry out them for this problem. Until January 2010, six workshops were arranged to discuss the problem of the Alevis. According to the first workshop on 3 July 2009 Alevis were in agreement on five proposals which would be enough for the government predicate on:


1. Making the Madımak Hotel in Sivas a museum,
2. Making compulsory religious education elective,
3. Recognizing Cemevi on legal tender,
4. Intermitting to build mosques in Alevi villages and recalling existing imams,
5. Returning back the Alevi dervish convents especially Hadji Bektaş to their first owners.

According to the last decision of the Alevi workshop, the situation of compulsory religious education changed. There will be no more Sura and prayer sections in the common books and these will become elective. In the common courses, religious doctrines and history of religions will be taught. Like the democratization process, expecting the result of the Alevi problem as soon possible would be hastiness. Yet it is a fact that significant progress was made in the Alevi opening. Also it is noteworthy that if a certain success is achieved in Alevi problem this would be carried on to the Kurdish hurdle which would be big step in the peace talks. Apparently more must be done to make Kurdish and Alevi citizens feel like ordinary citizens instead of discriminated ethnic minorities. If this is achieved, Turkey would take its place in the ranking of states with stable democracies.




Democracy is significant in terms of demonstrating that public will is important and citizens give the final decision. Until achieving a successful solution, democratization process is important. In the core of deliberative democracy every opinion is important even if it does not make sense for the result. This point of view is also important for the public because by this way citizens feel themselves as a part of the solution. This feature of the deliberative democracy is especially important in the Kurdish conflict that created a big devastation in the society politically, economically and psychologically because it created a deep gap between the citizens. People feel themselves discriminated. This means that the process of deliberation is as crucial as the solution. So the path that it is followed to reach the conclusion might be more important than the solution.


Democratic opening is a process and it would be wrong to expect it to come to a successful end right away but it is essential to develop new policies to prevent ethnic conflicts what have the potential to divide the country. Even though it is slightly Utopian, it is expected that democratic opening will bring fundamental changes to current parties in addition justice, equality, freedom, and solidarity to this country. Deliberating the problems during the democratization process under the roof of TGNA will make great contribution to get out from the deadlock. It is now time for the Turkish government to generate solutions for the identity problems in the age of human rights, multiculturalism, democracy and unity in diversity. Hopefully every responsible citizen and democratic parties show the determination and effort to make peace and solidarity become Turkey’s future. 




1-Sitembölükbaşı, Ş. (2005): ‘Liberal Demokrasinin Çıkmazlarına Çözüm Olarak Müzakereci Demokrasi’ in Akdeniz İİBF Dergisi. Vol: 10, p. 139-162.

2- The Associated Press (2009): Turkey Marks 25 Years of Kurd Re. 15 August.

3-Taşkın, Y. (2008): ‘AKP's Move to “Conquer” the Center-Right: Its Prospects and Possible Impacts on the Democratization Process’ in Turkish Studies. Vol: 9, No: 1, p. 53-72.

4-Turkish Grand National Assembly.

5-Savvides, Philippos K. (2000): ‘Legitimation Crisis and Securitization in Modern Turkey’ in Middle East Critique. Vol: 9, No: 16, p: 55-73.

6-Özbudun, E. (2000): Contemporary Turkish Politics: Challenges to Democratic Consolidation. USA: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.

7-Özbudun, E. (2009): Democratization and the Politics of Constitution Making in Turkey. Central European University Press.

8- ibid

9-The Guardian (2009): Turkey’s Kurdish questions. 22 May.

10- The Guardian (2009): Erdogan Edges Towards Peace With Kurds. 29 July.

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