New constitution AK Party’s biggest challenge, says British MP



Clement Jones
The Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) sweeping election victory, winning 50 percent of the total vote in this year’s polls, is impressive and a good development for Turkey, but the party still faces important challenges, including the adoption of a new and more democratic constitution to replace the current one, which was adopted after the 1980 coup d’état.
Timothy Francis Clement-Jones, a Liberal Democrat peer in the UK and a well-informed student of Turkey, expands his views on the recent developments in the country. In addition to his insightful analyses of the political landscape in the country, Clement-Jones shares with Sunday’s Zaman readers his knowledge and evaluation of highly crucial topics such as the Kurdish question and Turkey’s current and future relationship with the European Union.
What is your assessment of the outcome of the June 12 general elections in Turkey?

I think it is very good. I am not surprised with the AK Party’s victory. I think they have done a very good job with the economy in Turkey, and that explains a lot of their popularity. I think there are some challenges for them now; of course, they got over 50 percent of the work done, but they did not get so many seats so they could just introduce a new constitution without a problem. They do have a number of challenges which I think might be important over the next few years. For instance, what kind of new constitution they should bring in, relationships with a number of surrounding countries, relations with the EU, particularly the challenge to unblock some of the chapters that are blocked by the EU, relationships with the US and so on. Turkey has internal issues in that even though numerous Kurdish MPs won seats, they were not allowed to be part of a party, but they have a significant voice in Parliament now. Generally I have been admiring the way the AK Party has run Turkey.

What can be done to address the Kurdish question in Turkey?

They addressed the issue of relationships with Kurdish people outside of Turkey extremely well. But we know that there have been bilateral discussions with Massoud Barzani and in Iraqi Kurdistan trade is flowing well. There is a lot of Turkish investment into Iraqi Kurdistan, which in itself is great but what the Turkish government needs to do now is look at southern Turkey — their own population — and think: How can we stimulate the economy in that part of Turkey where we have a big Kurdish population. I am not sure enough is being done in terms of investment in eastern and southern Turkey. Economic investment is absolutely vital; otherwise, you create unrest, and if people see that they are becoming more prosperous, then that is the key to this problem. Provided there was investment taking place, the Kurdish language was allowed and so on. There has been a lot of progress in terms of language rights, but what I would like to see the new constitution do is devolve more power through the different regions. That might help, too.

The big issue, of course, is why the threshold for being a legitimate party in Parliament is so high. You have to get 10 percent of the vote in order to qualify to be a party in the Parliament. Now that sounds to me to be a very high hurdle, and I hope the new constitution changes that.

So you think the Kurdish MPs should go to Parliament?

I hope the individual MPs who have been chosen can take their seats. How can you have a proper parliament unless you have got everybody represented? Many people were quite happy with the way in which the elections turned out in Turkey. That it was a relatively balanced turnout, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) became stronger.

In your opinion, was it the right course of action for the CHP party to boycott the oath ceremony in Parliament?

I do not understand why they did that. To the outside observer, we are interested in making sure that Turkey is a really well functioning democracy and continues to be a great NATO member. I am very interested in Turkey becoming a member of the EU.

The Kurdish party would like sovereignty for the Kurdish population; what is your opinion on this matter?

Whenever that question is asked in Iraq of the Kurds, they say no. They want their own people to be free and prosperous, but they are not talking about sovereignty, and I would hope that that is not the case in Turkey.

Is there a need for Kurdish sovereignty?

As long as the conditions are right there for people to be free, to be economically prosperous, then there is no need. What is sovereignty? Look at the UK, we are part of the EU and people complain about a loss of sovereignty because we are part of the EU, but that is irrelevant. The relevant matter is that we have human rights, a higher degree of prosperity because we are a part of the EU and so on. Of course you have Kurds in various countries and family ties are important, but in my view you do not need a separate country. In my opinion that only creates anxiety and paranoia and the feeling within the Turkish government that there is a plot to try and break up the country, and that is very unhelpful.

Did the turmoil in the Middle East play a part in the third consecutive electoral victory of the AK Party? Is Turkey a role model for the Middle East?

One thing the AK Party has done is make Turkey the center of international regional discussion. With Central Asia and the Caucasus, Turkey is an important player. If you are talking about the EU, Turkey is potentially an important player. In terms of the Middle East, whether it is relations with the Gulf countries, Iraq or particularly Iran, Turkey is important. I think it has re-established itself as a really important world player.

With regards to Syria and regime change, what is your opinion on this matter?

I think its wrong for people in the first instance to say we must have a regime change and so on. You have to let the people of a country decide, and at the moment the signs are that there is a strong voice for reform in Syria. Yet, because of the power of the security forces, that voice is not as strong and the majority are not calling for Assad to be deposed. I do hope that it can be solved through peaceful means, but at the moment it seems the security forces are behaving appallingly. I am in favor of making sure the regimes in the Middle East are liberalized. If they cannot be liberalized because of too many vested interests, that is the point in which regime change comes into play. The most provocative thing would be for the West to urge regime change. Even in Syria, where the human rights violations were very clear, it would be far more powerful if Turkey, Iraq and the other players in the region were all saying to Assad you cannot keep doing this. While Assad appears to have some respect within the country, his apparatus, the Baath party and the security forces, do not. So rather than the US, UK or EU saying stop to Syria, it would be far more powerful if nations like Turkey, Iran and Iraq were delivering those messages.

With regards to investment in Turkey, do you think this needs to be improved? Should companies and individuals invest?

Istanbul is becoming a real regional financial center; it may even become an international financial player. Our interest is to make sure Turkey fulfils its potential commercially. This can only happen if there is great political stability. The economy and politics are absolutely linked together in my view.

What is your opinion on Turkey-UK and EU relations?

What really upsets and worries me is the Turkish-French relationship. Historically, in the 19th century, France used to be the place where a lot of the pashas and members of the Ottoman family were educated. What baffles me is that this relationship is still not powerful and France does not want Turkey in the EU. Whereas in Britain, we understand entirely why it is important for Turkey to join the EU. Why? With your young population you could add to the economic power of the EU. Again, many of us believe the fact that Cyprus, for instance, was allowed to join the EU, especially since the Turkish Cypriots were in favor of uniting, was unfair. We have got to resolve that issue, unblock the chapters and unblock the ports. That is a high priority for us. We need statesmanship on all sides to resolve this issue. It is untenable to have 10 chapters blocked because of this issue. Yet Turkey has undergone many reforms since it has applied to the EU. However, it has got to do more.

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