Turkey's Domestic Politics

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1.Establishment and Consolidation of Democracy

Present-day questions, dangers, and dilemmas of the democracy in Turkey are more related to establishment and consolidation of democracy than the basic step of transition to democratic rule. The likelihood of Turkey standing confident for the future and enjoying a robust democratic system along with fair governance might come into reality provided that democracy as “the only determining rule of the game” is recognized by all institutions in the country. Thus, communication and coordination among these institutions would be possible parallel to their espousal of democratic principles and justice as primary responsibilities.


Efforts to establish and to consolidate democracy in social life in Turkey can succeed only if participation and consensus are promoted. Because, a “Participatory and Consensual Democracy” is a form of governance that assumes separation of powers and institutional coordination as its point of departure and lets people involve in the decision-making process by seeking democratic compromise to reconcile social demands and problems. In this scope, for achieving a participatory and on sensual democracy, political and constitutional reform initiatives to meet the Copenhagen criteria at the initial phases of Turkey’s accession process to the EU and nongovernmental activities ranging from environmental issues to human rights along with social movements represent significant starting points. These developments have built foundations suitable for restructuring the representative democracy in Turkey utilizing measures of participatory and consensual democratic systems. Today, the task appears as the establishment and consolidation of democracy -as a “political system”, “political culture” and a “means to solve societal problems”- for enjoying the quality of a participatory and consensual democracy. 


2. Developing a Sense of Citizenship and Belonging

Since its foundation, Turkey has officially adopted Ataturk nationalism, which relies on the ties of citizenship and a shared homeland in the French fashion. Due to several reasons, nonetheless, there have been oscillations in practice between such a conception of nationalism and one that prioritizes ethnic ties in the German fashion. This has prevented a homeland-based sense of Turkishness from being internalized as the founders of the Republic envisioned; and fostered feelings of exclusion among citizens from certain ethnic or confessional backgrounds.


Parallel to this; social change engendered by globalization; and the social outcomes created by an increasing understanding of democracy and human rights have necessitated new openings beyond the classical conception of nation-state. Recently, it has been argued that globalization is threatening the nation-state in two respects. Firstly; a dual pressure is exerted on the nation-state from above and below; on the one hand by the centralization of supranational organizations like the EU, and on the other, by the decentralization provoked by the increasing recognition of minority and ethnic identities. Secondly, multi-identities emerge as a new challenge. Today, individuals are in a position to experience and espouse a variety of identities and senses of belonging simultaneously.


It is probable that any approach that denies right of existence to different senses of belonging, loyalty and attachment; and considers them as identities that are necessarily in contradiction with the national identity; would enfeeble the nation-state. Therefore, attention should be paid to the fact that individuals’ identities are multi-layered, flexible and sophisticated. Construction of this complex of senses of belonging should be scrutinized with great care. Such a scrutiny is needed for the development of a socio-cultural form whereby various identities are accommodated in a non-exclusive manner.


In Turkey, ethnic identities with local or regional affiliations on the one hand, and religious identities with a more global affiliation on the other; are growing stronger indeed. It can be argued that the increased strength of these identities (or dislocations of identity) would weaken the national identity and consequently jeopardize the loyalty to the nation-state. In order to eliminate this possibility, steps should be taken towards the inculcation of a citizenship-based model for nationalism.


One of the most effective ways to prevent the abuse of the concepts of nation and ethnicity could be the promotion of a non-exclusive sense of patriotism. If the love for the country is built on a rational basis, different identities would be given a room for existence, and at the same time an emotional attachment would nonetheless be created. As many scholars have already pointed to, patriotism is both a calculated loyalty and an emotional affiliation. The adoption of universal legal principles and their effective implementation as against all citizens on an equal basis would facilitate their loyalty to the state. Such a policy would also foster national feelings where they are weaker, by promoting a national feeling that is not defined in terms of primordial (ethnic or racial) ties. An understanding of the nation as consisted of equal citizens and based on the rule of law, could be established through the promotion of a patriotism stripped off ethnic and other differentiation marks. This would spread the national feelings, buttress the integrity of the country, and facilitate the solidarity of the people; while also contributing to the development of democracy by eliminating important discriminations.


3. Secularism

Compared to European constitutions, secularism appears in 1961 and more especially 1982 constitutions as a strictly defined concept. It is cited as an unchangeable quality of the state; and touched in many of the articles of the constitution – including, first and foremost, those regarding political parties. No other European constitution has assigned to secularism a position as central as in the Turkish constitution. Our constitutionmakers have assigned such importance to secularism as they took into consideration the dissimilarity between Turkish and European histories regarding the state-religion relationship; the special conditions of the Turkish revolution; and the fact that both social and political religiosity has spread rapidly after the transition to democracy.


According to the Article 24 of the constitution, everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religious belief and conviction. Acts of worship, religious services, and ceremonies shall be conducted freely, provided that they do not violate the provisions of Article 14. No one shall be compelled to worship, or to participate in religious ceremonies and rites, to reveal religious beliefs and convictions, or be blamed or accused because of his religious beliefs and convictions. No one shall be allowed to exploit or abuse religion or religious feelings, or things held sacred by religion, in any manner whatsoever, for the purpose of personal or political influence, or for even partially basing the fundamental, social, economic, political, and legal order of the State on religious tenets. Institutions founded by the state in order to serve the individuals in matters of religion, have to approach each belief on an equal basis and provide justice in the respective allocation of relevant resources, with an effort to further unity and solidarity among the citizens.


4. Improvement/Reformation of Judiciary

The aim of the legal revolution has been expressed in the justification section of the Turkish Law of Citizens (Civil Law) as: “Turkish nation, which set out in a walk toward adopting and espousing the contemporary civilization, has to adapt itself to the contemporary civilization for any costs; and not adapting the contemporary civilization to itself.”


In the 85th anniversary of the foundation of the republic, an answer to the question “How well has the Turkish legal revolution managed to succeed in this?” can be summarized as in the following: It cannot be denied that implementation of the Turkish law occasionally does concord with contemporary values. However, approaching the issue from a critical perspective and taking an average of the prevailing jurisprudence, one could not say that the objective has been reached.


A deficiency in infrastructure, lack of a culture of criticism and deliberation, incongruence between doctrines and implementation, lack of the idea of objective and subjective impartiality can be considered as the reasons of the failure in legal revolution.



Popular participation in judiciary: According to the constitution, “Judicial power shall be exercised by independent courts on behalf of the Turkish Nation.” This point articulates the democratic principle of participation, in other words the principle of “popular participation in judiciary.” In civilized countries popular judges (jury) participate in the judicial practice and apply judicial power on behalf of the people.


Freedom to claim rights: According to the article 36 of our constitution, everyone has the right of litigation before the courts through lawful means and procedure. Article 125 has strengthened this freedom by rendering recourse to judicial review available against all actions and acts of the administration. However, some exceptions have been put on this principle and they need to be redressed.


Judicial Independence: Judicial independence is a sin qua non of a polity based on the rule of law. Impartiality in justice can be achieved only through independence. Regulations that enable politicians and bureaucrats, who staff offices within the executive, to also take part in the independent judicial power, should be amended. The judiciary, in turn, should not interfere into the legally defined field of competence of the executive.


The incorporation of the institution of ombudsmanship into the Turkish judicial system would be a big step toward impartial, independent and swift judgment. Ombudsman would be formed by the legislative organ; and it carries responsibility toward the legislative organ in providing solutions to legal conflicts. 


Higher education in law is currently incapable of training judges and lawyers that have a good understanding of the contemporary legal concepts and terms. For this reason, legal education should be reviewed and no new law faculties should be opened without adequate academic staff.


A common legal dictionary should be composed in the light of the relevant global concepts. The process whereby Turkish law can meet globalization and become integrated with the West could begin with the creation of a sound legal terminology. 


5. The Need for A New Constitution

More than ten amendments have been made in the constitution since 1987. Despite these amendments, the search for a new constitution gained speed from the early 1990s onwards. Political parties as well as non-governmental organizations have contributed to the debate over a new constitution with the relevant reports and drafts they suggested. Current situation of Turkey with regard to the international context necessitates a revision of the constitution indeed.


The new constitution should definitely be shorter and more compact than the current one; include all the rules and institutions of a democratic state based on rule of law; establish the primacy of civilian authority without leaving any doubts and make the people as the subject of politics, rather than an object. 


The new constitution should be such a text that would take the individual and his rights as the fundamental basis, consider state not as a transcendental being but an instrument that serves the individual and the society, recognize social diversity not as a threat but as an asset, prioritize pluralism rather than homogeneity, and uphold constitutional democracy in all its aspects. It should embrace fundamental values and principles embraced by contemporary democratic states. Furthermore, the new constitution should follow the principle of political impartiality in keeping an equal distance to various and conflicting ideologies, worldviews, beliefs and values.


The new constitution should articulate a mentality that takes rights and freedoms as essential and their limitation as exception. In addition, the section about the basic rights should take into account the international conventions and their authoritative interpretations.


It should be expressed in definite terms that sovereignty belongs to the people and that it is used by the legislation, the executive and the judiciary. In order to preempt the disputes over sovereignty that might stem from the prospective EU accession, an article should be added stating in effect that sovereignty can actually be limited by requirements arising from membership in supranational organs.


Apart from the new constitution, measures should be taken in the Law on Political Parties and Elections in order to meet the need for efficient governance; to modernize the state structure and to establish democracy in all respects.

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