A new civilian constitution for an institutionalized Turkish democracy

24 November 2011, Thursday / ABDULLAH GÜL, PRESIDENT OF TURKEY
Add to Google
An exclusive piece from the president of Turkey, based on a speech given at the opening of Parliament in October. The president addresses the key issues facing the  government in the near future: the new constitution, Turkey’s justice system, terrorism, the Kurdish issue, the economy, and foreign policy -- including the EU accession process, relations with Israel and the Arab Spring. Gül signals an optimistic outlook  but urges dedication and determination  in solving current issues and making the most of recent opportunities

On June 12, the Turkish people graced the political establishment with a high voter turnout in the elections, ensuring the extensive representation in Parliament of all political opinions and inclinations.

Since the morning of June 13, the day after the general elections, the most important item on Turkey’s agenda has been the making of a new constitution.

All segments of society, without exception, have the will and support for the making of a new constitution. This is because everyone is aware that the constitution currently in force does not meet our needs. Our current constitution attempts to restrict Turkey’s democratic maturity and diversity, and ignores the richness that Turkey represents.

We can say that our nation has entrusted our parliament with the honorable duty of drafting a long-awaited constitution that, for the first time since the constitutions of 1921 and 1924, will be grounded on the will of the people. I believe that in fulfilling this honorable duty our parliament must act in full awareness of its responsibilities and with self-confidence. This process cannot be completed with fears, anxieties, impatience and fruitless feuding.

We have a firm foundation on which to base our self-confidence with respect to the creation of a new constitution. Our constitutional experience, going back more than 200 years, begins in 1808 with the Bill of Accord, continues through the times of the Imperial Reform Edict, the Basic Law, the first and second constitutional eras, bringing us to the constitutions enacted in 1921, 1924, 1961 and 1982, all of which provide the Turkish people with an accumulated memory of both positive and negative experiences.

Even under the most strenuous conditions of our War for Independence, Parliament demonstrated the ability to construct a civil constitution. Yet after the 1921 and 1924 constitutions the subsequent charters, including our current constitution written in 1982, were unfortunately the product of interim periods in which democracy -- and consequently the people’s will -- was suspended.

This memory and our experience are the essence of the insight for a new constitution that will lead our people into the next century. In light of this vast experience, we as a nation are in strong accord as to what our basic common denominators and fundamental values are.

Despite comprehensive reforms implemented in recent years, the 1982 constitution has lost its internal logic, becoming too narrow to accommodate the level of democratic and economic sophistication our nation has reached.

As a nation, our dynamic population has surpassed the 70 million mark, and in a little over 10 years’ time we will be celebrating our republic’s centenary. Less than half a century from now we will commemorate our presence in these lands for a millennium. It is natural then that as a country and a nation we look with hope toward a brighter and better future. This is why we must conduct the process for a new constitution with composure, self-confidence and determination, and without sacrificing the process to mistakes in method and discourse. Our vision for a new constitution and its language are the two main points as we embark upon this process.

Until now our constitutions have been minimalist when it came to freedoms, but endlessly expansive and flexible in restrictions. Every kind of freedom has been subject to limitations within a vague framework, potentially capable of being interpreted in any direction. Today we have to do the exact opposite.

Our new constitution must be of a flexible character based on freedoms. The basic principle should be to refrain from using the constitution as a means of controlling different political views and to avoid the creation of tensions between the state and the people.

At the same time, however, flexibility does not imply an absence of rules. What I mean when I say flexibility corresponds to encompassing contemporary developments and being open to new social dynamics. Flexibility does not mean the erosion of fundamental principles and sensitivities. On the contrary, it is a prerequisite of making fundamental principles and sensitivities resilient over time.

The basic problem with the constitution of 1982 is that it now lags behind society and its dynamics, and in fact regards these social dynamics as a problem. In contrast the new constitution should benefit from the dynamics of society and be designed based on freedoms.

With this understanding:

- Our new constitution should be drawn up without going into too much detail, but should strongly set out the fundamental principles, leaving details to the laws, allowing for flexibility and progress. Our most important yardstick in this process should be universal standards.

- Our new constitution should strengthen and guarantee the concept of equal citizenship in every aspect on the basis of fundamental rights and freedoms for everyone. It should preserve the right of every segment of the population to live “as itself,” meticulously providing constitutional guarantees in this context. The road to ensuring this outcome is a freedom-based approach, acting under the precepts of a vision of trust in each and every individual in our nation, regardless of political view, orientation or background.

- Our new constitution should consolidate our achievements from the last 200 years and should not compromise the fundamental principles of our republic as a democratic, secular, social state respecting the rule of law shared by us all.

- While taking every measure to perpetuate the state, our new constitution should be based on the fact that the state serves the people. In this context, instead of implicitly providing for tutelage through other bodies of authority, the constitution should clearly depend on the general will of the people as in contemporary democracies.

- Our new constitution should reflect the concept of a state that not only asks for accountability but is itself accountable. In short, the spirit and the letter of the constitution should incorporate the important qualities of contemporary democracies such as transparency and accountability.

- Our new constitution should accommodate the progress of democracy with all its institutions and traditions, incorporating systems of checks and balances. In this context, I would particularly like to call attention to the principles of separation of powers, judicial independence, and freedom of speech and the press.

In short, our new constitution should encompass all the qualities that will serve to institutionalize Turkish democracy. When a democracy is institutionalized, it becomes independent of periods, individuals, governments. An institutionalized democracy is a lasting, sustainable and consistent democracy. Such an institutionalized democracy is not affected by the movements and currents of the day, and provides its citizens with the requirements of a democratic state of law at all times and under all circumstances. I strongly believe that the ultimate aim of our new civilian constitution should be an institutionalized Turkish democracy.  

On the other hand, process is at least as important as the norms in the preparation of the new constitution. This is because the method is at least as important as the substance. It is imperative that the process of drawing up a new constitution is well planned and performed with an understanding based on problem solving.

The seal of the Turkish nation

The new constitution should not bear the seal of any particular idea, party, ideology or doctrine. It should carry only the seal of the Turkish nation. I believe that in addition to the participation of the parties in Parliament in the discussions on the constitution, the contribution of political parties not represented in Parliament, as well as that of civil society organizations, universities and professional associations will also be very beneficial.

At this point, I would like to touch on the important issue of “rule of law.” History has shown that states and regimes that broaden fundamental rights and freedoms, establish accountable administrations and maintain the rule of law always grow stronger.

One of the most fundamental and indispensable principles of democracy is, without doubt, the rule of law. The law, however, is not a tool to achieve political superiority. It has been seen time and again that using the laws to achieve political superiority, shape society, or impose a certain pattern of behavior on people has never been possible.

The law must revere human life and dignity. Inequality and injustice should not be concealed in the guise of law. The law should uphold the principle of justice. The ultimate goal of the principle of the rule of law and the ideal of the supremacy of law in a state is to meet the demand for justice.

Meeting the demand for justice is the combined responsibility of all of the bodies of the state and its institutions as well as all people working in these institutions. An independent and impartial judicial system which seeks to protect human dignity and ensures the administration of justice based on the principle of the supremacy of law is an indispensible condition for democracy and the rule of law.

Combatting terrorism

Having dealt with the importance of a new civilian constitution and the significance of rule of law, both vital for our aim of an institutionalized Turkish democracy, I now want to move to some issues that continue to steal our energy, our time and resources, as well as our enthusiasm for a prosperous future: terrorism and our fight with it.

The relationship between security and democracy is a matter that we should all analyze with utmost sensitivity. In today’s world one cannot speak of security without democracy or true democracy without security. Democracy is the most effective way to combat terrorism. It is also a value we must guard carefully and for which we must be willing to make sacrifices.

Acts of terrorism not only target our security  forces, innocent citizens, national unity and solidarity, but are also a deliberate attack on our democracy. For this reason the struggle against terrorism is, at the same time, a struggle to protect and further our democracy.

Terrorism serves no cause. On the contrary, when a cause is contaminated by terror, the way to deal with it is evident no matter what it says. Those who try to spread a climate of terror, those who refrain from assuming a clear stance against terror harm themselves the most. There can be no justification for terrorism. Attacks on the unity of the state and the lives of its people cannot be presented as being justified by the goal of increased rights. No leniency can be shown to terrorism, which is a scourge that must be eradicated.

I would like to send a clear message to our nation: The unity and indivisible integrity of the state is our fundamental political perspective and is not subject to discussion. It is for this reason that our country will continue to fight terrorism without hesitation and by the most effective means available.

The recent attacks of the separatist terrorist organization on innocent people, including women and babies, are shameful murders targeting humanity itself. These attacks deeply wound the human conscience and challenge the limits of patience. For this reason it is, at the very least, a matter of honor for all of us to condemn loudly the terrorists who indiscriminately target innocent crowds in cities.

Those who seek to obtain their rights with blood and violence, those who believe that the democratic steps that have been taken were realized as a result of terrorist acts are making an historic mistake. It must be well understood that had there been no acts of terrorism then Turkey’s democratic standards and level of economic development would now be far higher.

Meanwhile the Kurdish issue, a product of many years’ neglect of democratic deficiencies in our country, can be resolved in a democracy based on shared values and solidarity with our state. The solution lies in taking the steps of democratic progress without diverging into a political language that focuses on ideology and ethnicity. To this end, I once again recommend mutual understanding, compromise and moderation to all of our political parties.

Turkish economy

I can now move forward to the realm of economy, one on which I place much emphasis, since I believe that a country’s economic performance is the most important sign for its people of its stability, success and happiness.

Since the Turkish economy has been party to a customs union with the EU for 15 years and is integrated with the world economy, it is positively or adversely affected by developments in international markets. The world is facing a new crisis today even before the global crisis that began back in August 2007 has ended. The recovery that began in 2009 and continued in 2010 has unfortunately stagnated as of May 2011, which led to further economic contraction.

My observations about our economy in the context of global economic developments are as follows:

First of all, the ongoing global crisis and a second wave of economic contraction that everyone is trying to prevent are not crises of the emerging economies, such as our country. These crises are caused by developed countries.

Despite these global risks, the Turkish economy rests on sound macro foundations. Today we have an economy with strong public finances, sustainable debt dynamics, a sound banking system, functional credit markets and functioning monetary transmission mechanisms. Although the household indebtedness ratio increased somewhat in recent years, it is still low compared to other countries. On the other hand, a lower rate of savings represents a weakness for us.

Nonetheless, the Turkish economy grew by 9 percent in 2010 and 10.2 percent in the first half of 2011 in a global environment where many countries registered either little or no growth. Our growth has been an employment-generating one. At a time when the ratings of many developed market economies have been downgraded, it is commendable that Turkey’s credit rating has been upgraded three times since 2009.

In this context, I welcome the fact that the government and the team managing the economy continue to take timely decisions on monetary and fiscal matters. I also commend the coordination and cooperation of all economic units in this critical process. We certainly feel proud that the Turkish economy ranks as the 16th largest economy in the world and the sixth largest economy in Europe. On the other hand, we must work very hard not only to raise our per capita income level to match that of developed countries, but also to remove regional differences and to ensure equitable income distribution.

Econometric analyses show that per capita income will reach only 80 percent of the current EU average if we achieve 10 percent growth every year until the republic’s centenary in 2023. The high levels of growth needed to achieve these goals are, unfortunately, accompanied by chronic current account deficits and risks.

To date, we have generally tried to cure the problems arising from current deficit by way of the exchange rate. The exchange rate is certainly an important macro-variable in determining the economic competitiveness of an economy. However, the discussion about the exchange rate should not be reason for the postponement of facing structural problems and their solutions. The most recent growth and current account deficit figures indicate that much of the current account deficit problem in Turkey is structural.

Our country has been very successful in recent years with respect to the production of finished products. The performance in machinery and equipment, consumer durables and some industrial sectors bears testament to this fact. Yet, we do not produce intermediate goods and raw materials of sufficient quality to produce the high-quality goods that so in demand in international markets.

The last nine to 10 years have been important in repairing the flawed macroeconomic foundations of the economy. Based on the groundwork and confidence generated by this positive economic performance, we must now concentrate our efforts on reforms that will enhance total factor productivity in order to realize high levels of growth.

Turkish foreign policy

As for foreign policy, it is obvious that we are in an historic and dynamic period. Since last year, a process of change and transformation that will deeply impact the Middle East and North Africa for decades to come has been taking place.

As I have mentioned on many other occasions, this wave of democracy -- which is reminiscent of the revolutions of 1848 and 1989 in Europe -- has now gained an irreversible character. I previously drew attention to the need for change in the region in my remarks at the Foreign Ministers Meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Tehran in 2003. On that day, I said that the governments in the region fell short of meeting the legitimate demands of their people and pointed out the need for sincere reforms in order to prevent either a reaction from the people or an external intervention.

The peoples of the region, who for years suffered under pressure, fear, occupation, poverty and corruption, have finally decided to take their own future in their hands and catch up with history. This is a struggle to regain national honor and dignity as much as it is one for freedom and justice. The peoples of the region follow Turkey closely and see it as a source of inspiration for the success of this historic process of transformation.

Transformation in the Middle East

I would like to state once more that the Turkish people stand by the friendly and brotherly peoples of the region in their historic and honorable struggle. The economic, political and military contributions made by our country with this understanding in mind are commendable.

Translating this historic change in the Middle East and North Africa into peace, stability and prosperity requires active participation not only by our official authorities, but also by political parties, the business community and civil society in efforts relating to these countries. In these efforts, we must help the friendly and brotherly countries in the process of achieving stability, justice, democracy and development at all levels.

Furthermore, we must also lead the formation of a pan-regional “economic cooperation mechanism” and “security architecture” in order to consolidate the achievements of the Arab Spring.

These historic events should not lead us to disregard the fact that the Arab Israeli conflict is still one of the fundamental issues burning in the region. In this context, Turkey’s support for the efforts of the Palestinian people toward recognition of their state is a result of our brotherly ties with Palestine and our historical responsibility.

On the other hand, Israel should carefully follow and analyze the new political climate in the region, as the democratic and demographic dynamics are developing to the disadvantage of Israel. If, through occupation, coercion and land-grabbing, Israel continues to undermine the establishment of an honorable and independent Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem, and if Israel does not withdraw from the Arab territories it occupies, it will be impossible to achieve genuine peace and security.

Israel does not exhibit a strategic approach in its relations with us, either. The normalization of our relations is out of the question unless Israel takes the necessary steps in line with our just demands.

At this point, I would like to touch on an issue that I see as being at least as important as the Arab Spring itself. Lately, I have observed simmering tensions in the region based on a Sunni-Shiite divide. This issue, which will squander the energy and the resources of the region, must be resolved. I call upon all governments and organizations that may be made an instrument in provocation by malign powers trying to benefit from such a primitive divide in the Muslim world: Do not allow this to happen. Such a trend will catapult the Muslim world from the 21st century into darkness, in an experience similar to that of Europe in the Middle Ages.

The will and growing role of our country in contributing to world peace is appreciated not only in our region but around the world. In this context, I am glad to see our country create a difference in the solution of many complicated issues. The dialogue and cooperation processes that Turkey participates in or leads on issues pertaining to the Caucasus, the Balkans, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Palestine and Somalia have become the most meaningful mechanisms contributing to efforts for peace and stability in these regions.

At this point, I would like to touch on another important area: our European affairs. Turkey, as part of Europe, has its deepest, most comprehensive and multi-dimensional ties with Europe. Many European countries are our allies and leading trade partners, and we share many political, economic, military, scientific, cultural and human ties.

The global economic crisis that began in August 2007 and the ongoing instability in the Eurozone have led Europe to retreat into its own shell. The strategic short-sightedness on the part of some EU leaders has had a role to play in this development. At a time when the global center of gravity is shifting toward Asia and democratic development is broadening to the east and south of Europe because of the Arab Spring, it is highly probable that this introverted approach will have serious strategic costs for Europe.

As I have stated on other occasions with respect to our relations with the EU, we must fulfill our responsibilities regarding accession with determination and without ever giving up on our strategic priorities. We should not forget that the accession process with the EU has made an important contribution to our current economic stability and the democratic reforms we have implemented. At the same time, we must demand from our counterparts that Turkey be given the chance to successfully complete accession talks, just like Norway. Let us remember that when the accession process is complete, the decision to join the EU will be taken not just by the peoples of the EU, but also by the Turkish people.

Additionally, it should be noted by everyone that it is the Greek Cypriot administration which lacks the will to reach a settlement for the Cyprus problem, and that many members of the EU hide behind the Greek Cypriot administration, using it as an excuse. As we all know, we put in every effort as the Turkish side in the negotiations to unite the island. The Greek side was able to become a member of the EU despite the fact that they rejected the plan proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which was supported by the international community. The declarations and statements by many leading EU countries saying that the Greek Cypriot administration became a member of the EU without representing the entire island are still in the archives.

In fact, the EU has pursued a policy which contradicts its own principles by including within its membership, for the first time, an administration that has not resolved its internal problems and which does not represent all of its country. The EU presidency of such a “half government” in the second half of 2012 demonstrates a weakness on the part of the EU. This is something that must be questioned by the EU itself.

More importantly, since the EU considers all this to be normal at a time when negotiations are under way, this provides conducive ground for the Greek Cypriot administration to not feel any obligation to work for a solution. Obviously, this puts the EU in a position in which it ends up strongly encouraging the absence of a settlement.

Under these circumstances, I am afraid that the EU will be the cause of the beginning of a process that will render unification of the island totally impossible. I would like to underline that eventually the consequences of such a process will have to be accepted by everyone.