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Turkey: Constitutional Reform Underway

(Aug. 9, 2012) Turkey's Constitutional Reconciliation Commission reconvened on August 1, 2012, to resume its preparation of a new constitution for the country. The parliamentary body will reportedly start to discuss some articles that have given rise to heated debate, including those on the definition of citizenship and on whether citizens have the right to an education in their native tongue. (Ali Aslan Kiliç, Constitutional Commission to Seek Reconciliation over Controversial Articles, TODAY'S ZAMAN (Aug. 6, 2012).)

The ruling Justice and Development Party had suggested that the controversial articles be left out of the document “to avoid dragging out the drafting process,” but opposition parties rejected that proposal. (Id.) Atilla Kart, a Commission member from the Republican People's Party (CHP), was quoted as saying that his party cannot accept a distinction between articles on which the parties can reach reconciliation and those on which they cannot. “It doesn't make sense to prepare a constitution by leaving out critical issues just because they are hard to reach consensus on. Principally there has to be consensus about every article in the constitution.” (Id.) Kart pointed out, moreover, that CHP had prepared 54 proposals concerning articles on basic rights and freedoms – e.g., on expansion of the right to freedom of expression, on employment issues, and on land reforms – whereas other parties prepared on average 30. (Id.)

In the view of Commission member Ayla Akat, of the Peace and Democracy Party, a key objective of the new constitution, as well as of the structure of the Commission itself, with its multi-party membership, is to assure social peace in Turkey. That goal is unlikely to be reached, she stated, if issues of basic rights and freedoms are not considered just because reconciliation among different groups is difficult; “[o]n the contrary, we expect our basic rights and freedoms to be assured by the constitution … .” (Id.)

Background on the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission

The Commission is composed of members of the four main political parties represented in the Grand National Assembly, Turkey's parliament. Six subcommittees of the Commission have undertaken the drafting of the new constitution. (Ali Aslan Kiliç, Constitutional Reconciliation Commission Extends Its Calendar, TODAY'S ZAMAN (June 3, 2012).)

In drafting the text of the new constitution, the Commission is adhering to a four-phase process. During the first phase, the body collected and evaluated data. The second phase, scheduled for completion by the end of 2012, is completion of the draft for public discussion. Public discussion of the document is scheduled to take place in 2013. After that phase of the process, the finalized text will be presented to the Grand National Assembly. (Constitutional Commission to Seek Reconciliation over Controversial Articles, supra.) Work on drafting the content of the new charter began on May 1, 2012, after a six-month preparatory process; prominent constitutional experts were reportedly to be consulted on the methodology for writing the document. (Hüseyin Hayatseve, Panel for New Charter Starts Landmark Duty in Turkey, HÜRRIYET DAILY NEWS (Apr. 30, 2012).)

Originally, the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission had been given one year to complete the draft. However, it was reported in June 2012 that “[o]ut of a total of 41 sections, only two have so far been discussed.” (Constitutional Reconciliation Commission Extends Its Calendar, supra.) In particular, tensions that had arisen during debates over the “Equality” section of the draft, resulting in a decision to skip that section and start discussion of the “Right to Life” section instead, had made it clear that the one-year timeframe would be insufficient. (Id.)

In terms of its procedures, the Commission will first discuss articles on which it will be easier to reach consensus; contentious issues are to be referred to the party leaders in order for agreement to be reached. Moreover, “a very strict blackout” is to be imposed on its work, to prevent information on the content of the articles from being leaked, which could result in “ignit[ing] untimely discussion.” (Hayatseve, supra.)