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The Battle for Turkey’s Constitution

ISTANBUL – On September 12, Turks will vote on a set of constitutional amendments proposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been in power for eight years.  Since the vote falls on the 30th anniversary of the 1980 military coup, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is portraying the referendum as an opportunity to reject the military regime’s legacy.

Turkey’s constitution has been amended repeatedly since the coup. But its anti-democratic core remains intact – and, unfortunately, the current proposals do not dramatically alter that. 

Most of the previous amendments relied on agreements between governing and opposition parties, and were not put to a popular vote. This time, the AKP acted on its own and was barely able to garner from its own ranks the requisite majority for a referendum. Far from being an occasion for popular condemnation of the coup on its anniversary, the referendum is a mark of the AKP’s failure to gain widespread support for its project.

With another general election due next year, civil-society groups preferred that priority be given to lowering the 10% electoral threshold for parties to enter parliament, thus broadening political participation. The new parliament would then work on constitutional reform.