The Week in Turkish Politics
19 October 2011
Turkey is at the threshold of the most important democratic endeavour in the 21st Century. A four-party commission has officially started work on Wednesday to draft the new constitution. The commission, composed of an equal number of members from AKP, CHP, MHP and BDP, shall report to Speaker Cemil Çiçek and will first debate the procedures in adopting the new articles.
While major political parties are present under the roof of the Grand Assembly, arguably the most representative since the 1980 coup, women are underrepresented. Moreover, it is not clear who will speak on behalf of Alevites, Turkey’s forgotten religious minority. It is very important that the new constitution be drafted after consultations with extra-parliamentary interest groups and NGOs, passed by the consent of all four parties and be ratified by a wide majority in a national plebiscite.
While hopes are high that the four parties will cooperate to draft a modern, liberal and individualistic constitution befitting ofTurkey’s rapidly rising aspirations to become a world-class power and a first-class society, the exercise has started under dark clouds of partisanship and escalating PKK attacks.
On the political the headlines is CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s accusation that deputy PM Beşir Atalay has personally or through his lieutenants tipped Lighthouse Foundation suspects about an impending police raid, helping them to hide and destroy evidence.
Beşir Atalay denies the accusations firmly, but so far the evidence presented by Kılıçdaroğlu, largely derived from police wiretap reports and suspects’ depositions during interrogations look pretty strong. In a democratic country, a parliamentary probe will be launched immediately to clear Beşir Atalay of these accusations.
It needs to be seen whether AKP will vote for such an inquiry, but expectations are not too high. To recall, three prosecutors who had been pivotal in bringing the biggest Islamist charity fraud of the 20th Century to trial stage have been dismissed on the instructions of the Justice Minister. They are accused of procedural errors in gathering evidence, which should—no doubt- be respected in all cases. However similar accusations have been levied against many prosecutors involved in the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases, none of whom had even been censored. Many of the suspects some held in detention for up to four years, claim evidence in their behalf has been concealed by prosecutors. Eight of these defendants are members of the parliament, who are still denied bail contrary to extant laws and precedents.
The double standard is rapidly eroding the already very low confidence of the Turkish people in impartial and independent judiciary. CHP has made it clear that judicial reform, parliamentary oversight and more say for the opposition will be essential articles in the new constitution.
Turkish intelligence sources claim that Iranian forces apprehended PKK’s Qandil leader Murat Karayilan on intel provided by Turkey but set him free after two days, as a message to Turkey that Ankara’s open hostility to the Esat regime and its decision to host the Missile Shield on Turkish soil is not appreciated. In as much as Erdogan strives to maintain “the strategic alliance” with Iran, the two countries are moving towards a clash, as Turkish authorities fear Iranian-Syrian cooperation to provoke PKK for further attacks on Turkish targets.
AKP doesn’t seem to have an answer to the Kurdish problem, of which the PKK violence is only one angle, except to arrest very large numbers of KCK members. KCK, a sister NGO of BDP and openly allied with PKK is nevertheless not proven to engage in violence, and claims up to 4 thousands members have arrested on charges of aiding and abetting terror, even though all they did it was peaceful advocacy of the Kurdish cause.
In this environment of violence and oppression, CHP deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a former lawyer and prominent Kurdish rights activists, had unveiled a 6 item agenda to resolve the conflict peacefully. It involves a bi-partisan parliamentary committee to hear Kurdish complaints and help draft the constitution, as well as wisemen’s group of non-politicians to render comment and recommendations on the solutions to be proposed. It remains to be seen whether AKP will take up the offer.
We close with a very telling anecdote of just how illiberal Turkey had become under the decade-long reign of AKP. A motion to lift the ban on female deputies wearing pants, advanced by most female deputies in the parliament had been called back to the committee by the AKP-member chairman Mr. Burhan Kuzu, because BDP attached a rider to it which would also allow females to wear the headscarf. One would have thought AKP would have rushed eagerly to support a motion that will abolish the headscarf ban, but one would be wrong, because AKP generates most of its political energy from the friction caused by the ban. Finally, a former ministerial staff and retired judge Mr. Nusret Çiçek penned an article in the bastion of Islamism, daily Vakit, and claiming that wearing pants in public is exhibitionism. He mentioned the name Şafak Pavey, insinuating she is one of the exhibitionists. Mrs. Pavey, a female CHP deputy also happens to be a double amputee.