Historic vote paves way to tackle past

BETÜL AKKAYA DEM?RBA?
?STANBUL

Turkey witnessed rather eventful times this year, with violent acts of terror by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), cutthroat rivalry between political parties and a stronger civilian will to call to account suspected coup plotters.
The appearance of 195 active duty and retired members of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in court on charges of involvement in the Sledgehammer coup plan was no small event. However, Today’s Zaman editors’ pick as the “Event of 2010” was a constitutional amendment package sponsored by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government which sought to make vital changes to the 1982 Constitution — ratified in a referendum after a military coup two years earlier.

The package was intended to mainly respond to the nation’s urgent needs for a more viable democracy, broader rights and freedoms and stronger civilian control over the military. It also sought to secure the future of large-scale trials for suspected coup attempts and enable civilian prosecutors to more courageously investigate the attempts.
The constitutional amendment package included 26 articles. Among other things, it sought to make the military more accountable to civilian authority as well as restructure the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). In addition, it made it more possible to confront the instigators of the 1980 coup and the suffering they inflicted. Hundreds of people were killed and thousands of people jailed and tortured after the coup.
However, the package received only limited support from political parties in Turkey. The AK Party, the Felicity Party (SP) and the Grand Unity Party (BBP) announced their support for the package, believing it would contribute to a higher level of democracy in the country. Opponents — namely, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and many others — argued that the proposed changes included in the constitutional amendment package raised concerns over the future of the independence of the judiciary.
The reform package was taken to a public vote on Sept. 12. The date had symbolic aspects for many voters, as it coincided with the 30th anniversary of the Sept. 12, 1980, military coup. For most, the referendum offered an opportunity for victims of the coup to settle accounts with the coup’s instigators.
The constitutional amendment package received around 58 percent of the national vote. The public go-ahead for the package was also seen as a test for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an and his AK Party government, which has pushed for political and economic reform since coming to power in 2002. The “no” front secured 42 percent of the votes cast.
The referendum was held in a largely peaceful atmosphere throughout Turkey. In some eastern and southeastern provinces, people defied a call by the pro-Kurdish BDP to boycott the referendum and instead cast their votes. In addition, the terrorist PKK had threatened voters with their lives if they insisted on going to the ballot box on referendum day. Kurdish voters who managed to go to the polling stations overwhelmingly voted “yes” for the constitutional amendment package. In some Kurdish cities, however, voter turnout was rather low. The referendum vote also came as support for Erdo?an’s pledge to completely change the Constitution after parliamentary elections in June 2011. The AK Party produced a draft constitution to replace the current one after the 2007 general elections, but it was shelved after failing to garner the support of opposition parties.
The constitutional amendment package contained changes to the Constitution in some key fields such as the military, equality, privacy, freedoms, labor, Parliament, the Constitutional Court and the judiciary. For the military, the package gave officers expelled by the armed forces the right to appeal. It also redefined the jurisdiction of military courts and empowered civilian courts to try military staff for crimes against state security or the constitutional order — such as coup attempts. In addition, it opened the way for the prosecution of Turkey’s 1980 military coup leaders.
For equality, the package strengthened gender equality and barred discrimination against children, women, the elderly, the disabled and veterans. For privacy, it recognized the right to protection of personal information and access to official personal records. And for freedoms, it restricted travel bans imposed on individuals who had outstanding debts to the state.
For labor, it allowed workers to become members of more than one union in a workplace. It also recognized the right to collective bargaining for civil servants and other state employees. In addition, it removed bans on politically motivated strikes.
For Parliament, it ensured that elected lawmakers will stay in Parliament if their political party is disbanded by court decision. The constitutional amendment package also sought to make political party closures more difficult. However, the article that would have given Parliament the last say on whether a prosecutor could launch a closure case against a party failed to receive the required number of votes in Parliament. Therefore, the article was dropped from the package.
For the Constitutional Court, the reform package increased the number of judges on the court from 11 to 17 and gave power to Parliament to appoint some of them. It also recognized the right of individual appeals to the court. And for the judiciary, the package increased the number of members of the HSYK, which oversees the appointment of judges and prosecutors in the country, from seven to 22. It also opened the way for appealing decisions to disbar judges and prosecutors.
In a speech delivered after the referendum, Prime Minister Erdo?an sent warm messages to those who voted both for and against the package. He said there were no losers among the electorate and thanked all those who participated in the vote. He also said the referendum results would be a milestone in the effort toward producing a new constitution for Turkey.
In Ankara, President Abdullah Gül appealed for harmony after voting. “From tomorrow onwards, Turkey needs to unite as one and look ahead. Turkey should focus all its energy on the issues its people are  facing and the future of the country.”


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