“Whatever cannot be done in constitutional amendment is done”

We talked to Assoc. Prof. Murat Sevinç, a faculty member of Ankara University School of Social Sciences, about the content of the proposed constitutional amendments and their outcomes.

Constitutional amendments that will provide extensive authority to the president is started to be voted in Turkish parliament. For now, it seems that a referendum will be held thanks to AKP and MHP MPs. On the other hand, the proposition led to widespread discussion and reaction of a considerable part of the society, especially CHP and MHP. We talked to Assoc. Prof. Murat Sevinç, a faculty member of Ankara University School of Social Sciences, about the content of the proposed constitutional amendment and its outcomes.

Let’s start with this question: what will be changed by this proposition? The constitution or the regime? If it is the regime, is this the right way to do it?

This proposition is not a usual one. Legally, all articles of the constitution are equal; there is no hierarchy. However, the fact that they are legally equal does not mean that every amendment is a usual one. It is possible to make a change that will shake the found of the constitutional order. Let me give an example. If you change the article that regulates the right to education by adding “it will be in accordance with the dominant religious belief”, this would be a change of regime.

I compare this change with 1909. After Abdulhamid, some changes made in 1876 constitution in 1909 and a brand new constitutional order started. Sultan was no longer at the center of the system; he was replaced by the parliament. Since then, the fundamental element of our system is the parliament, though there were some compromises in 1982 constitution. Of course, these changes were progressive. Now, however, a century-old tradition is abandoned and “seat” of execution replaces the superiority of the parliament. Mind you, not the organ, seat. The most powerful one will be the single person who leads the executive organ. We shouldn’t be preoccupied with names. Whoever this person would be, the situation doesn’t change. Naturally, a sane person sees a change of regime here.

Let’s come to the way it is being done. Firstly, I think that the “authority of constituent power” is being exercised and the parliament, which is the current “constituted” power, cannot use this authority. This can happen sometimes, there are historical examples, all of which happened in extraordinary times when the survival of the state was at stake. Surely, there is no need for such a change for the survival of this state now, unlike France of 1958 and USA of 1787. What is happening, are we founding a new country? If so, are just two parties doing this? Is there a “foundation” to which half of the country objects? Nobody says this from the ruling party. More strangely, nobody says anything. So, discussing whether it is right or wrong way to do this is meaningless. Two parties try to pass an anonymous text by even violating the codes of voting during the state of emergency. In brief, I don’t regard this as a constitutional amendment. Whatever cannot be done in constitutional amendment is being done here.

How do you assess the arguments of the ruling party? I mean, how will this change smooth the way for Turkey? Was the prime minister the obstacle?

Do you know about the arguments of the ruling party? I don’t. Who knows? They say that the parliamentary system came to a dead-end. Really? I am not aware of it. When did it happen? Six months ago? Was it okay during the previous 14 years? Why did they order a parliamentary system constitution form Özbudun and his team 10 years ago? Such arguments cannot be taken seriously.

We should ask anyone who demands something to explain it a bit more. For instance, if someone demands democracy, we should ask, “So, what do you want exactly?” If someone says, “the system came to a dead-end”, we should ask “What do you mean? What kind of a dead-end?” In Turkey, some notions are flying around for years, but nobody knows what they are talking about. This is a deep trouble and some educated people who love to mouth off and have the ability to babble without saying anything substantial played a major part in this. This is why, as a principle, I ask everyone what they exactly mean.

They say that the parliamentary system came to a dead-end. Is that so? Do you know what this system really is? Have you ever seen that these questions are discussed? I don’t talk about the academia. I mean a public discussion. They love slogans like, “Military domination is ended”, “Advance democracy” or “Single-party government provided stability”. This claim doesn’t accord with any data. It doesn’t accord with western democracies. But, it doesn’t matter! They keep saying the same things. It is just babbling.

Parliamentary system is related to the way the executive organ is constructed, regardless of system’s being democracy or not. In this country, the executive organ can be constructed in accordance with the basic principles of “presidential system”, “semi-presidential system” or “parliamentary system.” Any of these systems can be democratic or antidemocratic. In the US, presidential system led to democratic outcomes, because they invented that system for themselves. On the other hand, same outcomes hadn’t been attained in other countries, because other elements in those countries weren’t similar to the ones in the US. Parliamentary system is a British invention and Europe adopted it with some nuances. In 1909, Turks adopted the basic principles of that system. Since then, with the exception of 1921, we use it. Other countries have the same problems we have. They try to solve them by developing democratic rules and practices. The British or Germans don’t think about the presidential system every time they have a problem. Let me tell you the most basic democratic practice: resignation. Yes, in democratic systems, authorities try resignation when there is a crisis in governing or unpleasant accusations. Something new is founded then. In Turkey, resignation is a major sin. It is like a swear word. It doesn’t even cross their minds.

So, saying that the problem is the seat of prime minister is just insulting our intelligence, that’s all. In Turkey, the prime minister defends a system that will end him and talks about how his seat is harmful and unnecessary. If it is a joke, it is not even funny.

Let’s say that the proposed amendments are approved by referendum. What kind of a country will it be? A democratic country, a one-man regime that is even more authoritarian?

As I said, there is no direct relation between democracy and the way the executive organ is constructed. Answering your question, it is the second option, of course. Notion of democracy is about the nature of the relationship between the governing and governed ones. The systems in question, however, are about the way one of the governing organs is constructed. I mean, they should be discussed separately. If we don’t do this, we may end up saying, “There is monarchy in the UK. If we adopt monarchy, then we will be more democratic.” Can you imagine this? No, because a republic and monarchy can be democratic or antidemocratic.

What kind of a country will it be? I am not an oracle, but I am smart enough to know that it won’t be a better one. A country where all the vital decision is made by a single person/seat who can issue decrees having the force of law wouldn’t be preferable.  Our problem is not the structure of the executive power; our problem is being an underdeveloped democracy.  Keep in mind that if another person is elected as the president by accident, everyone who is advocating this change would start to say, “A country cannot be governed with this constitution.” If the president and the parliament are politically likeminded, that is fine; but if they are not, it amounts to inability to govern. This is their promise to the country.  

Ruling party also says that there was a similar system in time of Atatürk. Do they really want that kind of a structure? If so, is it reasonable or necessary to go back to the system in ‘30s?

Neither I nor my colleagues know about such a system. What they mean is 1924 constitution. According to that constitution, a party-member president was possible. For instance, İsmet İnönü was the president and the chair of CHP at the same time. That is right, but that is all! Neither Atatürk, nor İnönü had these authorities. During the discussion of 1924 constitution, the parliament didn’t provided Mustafa Kemal with the authority of dissolving. And that parliament was formed after almost all opponents were purged. Can you imagine, even that parliament could not have accepted such an authority! Now, there is more authority and they are happy to accept that. And let’s say it is just about being a party-member president. If you are so eager to be like İnönü, why have you been criticizing that period for ages? We should ask this, right?

Let’s sum up and conclude. There wasn’t a system like this in time of Atatürk. There hasn’t been a system like this in our history of constitution. There isn’t a system like this in any democratic country. That is why they call it “Turkish style”. I wish they don’t do this, Turkish history of constitution and law is not that cheap…


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Yetvart Danzikyan