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TÜSİAD and Turkey’s democratization

Saturday 17 February 2007, by Murat Yilmaz

Source : Zaman

A landmark report prepared by the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSİAD) entitled “Democratization Perspectives in Turkey” has recently been updated by Zafer Üskül and reprinted.

With the new title “130 Years of Turkish Democracy: 1876-2006,” the report focuses on democratic progress in the last decade, addresses the difficulties involved and sets its goals.

The report’s referral to 1876 as the inception of Turkish democracy is noteworthy. After making enormous progress in democratization, Turkey has arrived at a new threshold in which the country may shift to a first-class democracy.

A threshold toward first-class democracy ?

Tension observed today is closely related to this threshold because overcoming it would mean the elimination of the former system and the establishment of one based on democratic principles. Resistance is being waged beyond the periphery of the law and must be considered an anti-democratic and non-legal stance.

The Şemdinli incidents, the Council of State raid and the recent murder of Hrant Dink are the most recent manifestation of this aggressiveness. This violence, which risks isolating Turkey from the world, stems from the concerns coming from the dissolution of the old regime. For this reason, this will continue as long as these groups are able.

The goal of this terror is to demonstrate the nonexistence of an operational democracy by polarizing the public along nationalist and secularist lines. This is exactly why the public is becoming more concerned. The TÜSİAD report is a reflection of this growing concern.
Heated discussions on the report were inevitable despite the recent tension sparked by Hrant Dink’s murder. Sharp criticism voiced by Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairman Devlet Bahçeli against the report and TÜSİAD brought the issue to the country’s attention. Turkey has undergone a striking transformation since report was first published January 1997. This unfulfilled transformation, in essence, marks a political paradigm shift. For this reason, debates and controversies are inevitable.

This last point was inserted in the foreword of the updated version of the report as follows: “We are well aware that when developing an inventory of democratization and proposing changes in relation to the shortcomings, it is unrealistic to hope that all these changes will be put into effect immediately. However, it is obvious that those proposals should be implemented. Progress can only be achieved through discussions and proposing concrete solutions.

A first report in 1997

Before discussing the updated version of the report, let me recollect the democratic reforms mentioned by Bülent Tanör in the first report. It stressed the need to reorganize the political regime on the basis of parliamentary regime principles and to stop pursuing presidential and semi-presidential systems. The following recommendations were emphasized for the establishment of a parliamentary democracy: Above all, the General Staff should be subordinated to Defense Ministry, and the National Security Council should cease to be a constitutional institution. Election laws should be significantly altered. The said laws should be amended so as to allow the formation of election alliances. Further amendments included that the election threshold should be lowered to 5 percent, general and local elections should be held every four years and the minimum age to be elected should be lowered to 25.
The report also underlined that the Constitution’s line about fundamental rights and freedoms should read “Freedoms and liberties are essential, and restriction is an exception.” To this end, the report urged the administration to end the restrictions long imposed on freedom of expression, the practice of obligatory courses on religion and recognizing the right of public servants to go on strike.

The report also addressed the Kurdish question and commented that the scope of freedom of expression should be expanded, and subsequently the parties formed on the basis of this question should be allowed to operate freely. The recognition of cultural rights was another thorny issue pointed out by the report. To achieve a democratized regime, the report opined that no public institution should be exempted from auditing, the independence of the judiciary should be ensured and military courts should not be allowed to try civilians.

The principles that govern both reports are as follows:

- 1) A pluralistic democratic political structure that facilitates social compromise and broad-based participation is necessary to sustain a free market economy in Turkey.

- 2) The institutionalization of political democracy will only be possible through the efforts of those who uphold that democracy is the only viable way for a bright future of the country.

- 3) In a period where the people have lost their faith in its institutions, the system should be able to be self-critical and produce viable solutions.

When it was published in 1997, the report was discussed mostly because of its reform proposals on the resolution of the Kurdish issue. The proposals suggesting further democratization were criticized by the military establishment and nationalist circles. The report’s limited content on the religious freedom was a matter of criticism for those whose religious freedoms had been violated. The tone of the criticism by the latter was further elevated when TÜSİAD remained indifferent to the “post-modern” military intervention on Feb. 28, 1997, only a month after the release of the report. TÜSİAD’s support of the intervention, let alone its reaction, was viewed as in sharp contrast to the content and objective of the report.

Another point that should be underlined about the report is the pressure put on Tanör. Shortly after the then-rector of Istanbul University opened an investigation into the royalties Tanör received in return for the preparation of the report, Tanör resigned from his position at Istanbul University’s law school.

While endorsing the report and Tanör’s recommendations, TÜSİAD opted to overlook the pressures put on academics other than Tanör. Even though the updated version of the report makes mention of those previously ignored pressures, TÜSİAD protected Van Yüzüncü Yıl University Rector Yücel Aşkın, the symbol of academic restriction. But TÜSİAD ignored the unfair treatment the faculty members and students of the university were subjected to. For instance, TÜSİAD has recently remained silent during the lynching campaign launched against Professor Atilla Yayla.

A constructive attitude toward the European objective

Despite its poor record, TÜSİAD has always adopted a constructive approach toward Turkey’s EU bid. It has consistently contributed much to the reform process. Considering the 1997 report and its updated version, we should admit that TÜSİAD substantially contributed to the progress Turkey has made toward democratization.
The updated version of the report states that Turkey’s democratization should be compared to the practices implemented in “advanced Western democracies” instead of neighboring countries. When such a comparison is made, the road map indicates the reforms Turkey should introduce for the sake of democratization.

Given the problems that have arisen during the implementation of the reforms by the executive bodies and their interpretation by the judiciary, civil society and individuals should assume roles to monitor the progress.

Zafer Üskül, departing from the report prepared by Tanör, surveyed the developments throughout the last decade and underlined that the authorities of the president should be confined to reinforce the parliamentary system.

It is already evident that the Political Parties Law should be further amended despite the ameliorations focusing on the requirements sought to close down a party and that there are still problems with the thresholds stipulated under the election laws. Two problems are noteworthy in the executive branch. First, despite improvements with the reorganization of the National Security Council, subordination of the General Staff to the Defense Ministry is still out of the question.

Second, the reform on the localization of governance is still incomplete. Constitutional amendments are required to do it. The entire issue could be resolved through implementation of the draft reform on public administration devised by Undersecretary of Prime Ministry Ömer Dinçer. The visible progress in the field of human rights notwithstanding, restrictive provisions and the notorious Article 301 of Turkish Penal Code should be immediately abolished. To better implement the reforms introduced in human rights, judges should abandon the mission to protect the state and replace it with the mission to protect the law.

The necessity of a judicial reform

In other words, judicial reform should be completed. One goal of judicial reform should be the transformation of judicial bodies so that they adopt a perspective of law and democracy. This should be accompanied by a new civilian constitution that will be promulgated in lieu of the 1982 Constitution devised under the influence of the military.

TÜSİAD recalls that the desired reforms may not be easily introduced and notes that serious reactions and resistances against the reform process should be expected. TÜSİAD, therefore, stresses that the introduction and implementation of the fundamental reforms requires a strong political will and determination :

We now know that the process will not be linear. The progress of the country toward a more transparent and participatory democracy will inevitably create a resistance among those who favor the preservation of the status quo and do not want to share their power. Some conjectural developments may occasionally foster this resistance and help it grow further.

As long as it remains committed to the democratization of this country and speaks loudly in support of the quest for further progress in human rights, TÜSİAD may be able to rectify its poor record. The election of Arzuhan Yalçındağ from the Doğan Group as TÜSİAD’s chairwoman is now attracting greater public attention. Turkey is pursuing rapid democratization and reforms more assertively and ambitiously with the inclusion of the internal dynamics in the process. TÜSİAD should be considered seriously as the expression of this dynamic.

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