Mr. Soylu's statements as laws and the new constitution

Süleyman Soylu openly says that universities “shouldn’t be democratic.” Then, I think it’s safe to say that any mechanism based on self-governance would have no place in the new constitution. Thus, there would be no need to include the principle of a democratic state - which is the basis of each of the constitutional norms - in the new constitution.

A debate over a new constitution has recently surfaced in Turkey. The chair of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prompted this discussion. The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli then emphasized the “necessity of a new constitution that would protect the new [presidential] system and be worthy of it.”

The Turkish-Islamist coalition has been dictating the rules of the game in this fashion for a while now. It chooses the referee, the presenter and the commentators according to their identities, then clears the football pitch, doesn’t allow any spectators in, hinders the rival team from playing with its entire team and begins the match.

As Bahçeli launched the debate over a new constitution, a phrase once uttered by a student sprung up in my mind. In 2011, the “Constitution Conciliation Commission” was formed in parliament. Later, my professor Murat Sevinç decided to set up a series of seminars with volunteer students. More and more students started attending the weekly meetings, which proved quite fruitful. The resulting 12 seminars emphasized the importance of taking responsibility, the necessity of free discussions held by the students who contributed to them with interdisciplinary approaches as well as the importance of universities as autonomous and democratic institutions.

The presentations of the students and the professors gave rise to a bulk of work which was then published by the Alumni Association of the Political Sciences Faculty (Mülkiyeliler Birliği) in 2012 and which was entitled “Political Science Students Discussing the Constitutional System.” At the beginning of the seminar series, a student abruptly said “No constitution can be discussed in this weather, nor can it be written.” I remember Professor Murat Sevinç and myself looking at each other, thinking that the student was referring to the country’s harsh political agenda. For the air of Ankara’s Cebeci district contained a great amount of pepper gas back then. The student then elaborated and said he was referring to the pollution that killed animals and endangered human life. From then on, he stressed the priority of a discussion on pollution during all the seminars he attended.

This sentence carries a particular significance today. I’m not arguing one cannot write a new constitution. Orhan Aldıkaçtı wrote one. And Ahmet İyimaya, an AKP politician who served as Kenan Evren’s lawyer, could also write one. He’d fit into Aldıkaçtı’s shoes very well. Aside from İyimaya, there’s Mustafa Şentop, another AKP politician who displayed his capabilities as a member of the Constitutional Commission which directed the regime change in 2017. His performance was as successful as that of Aldıkaçtı’s as a member of the Advisory Parliament from 1981 to 1983.

I’m also not arguing that a new constitution wouldn’t be accepted. Our current parliament is a tad better than the Advisory Parliament of the putschists between 1981-1983. The parliament could discuss what the Presidential High Advisory Board should do, which, again, is comparable to the National Security Council of the coup-plotters back in the early 1980s. Those who oppose the proposal for a new constitution can be accused of being “terrorists.” And if the rules and regulations of elections are redesigned, the draft of a new constitution can even be accepted through referendum.

Meanwhile, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), as the main opposition party, can contribute to the discussion within the boundaries set by the government and ensure it isn’t branded as “terrorists”. The CHP would also proclaim the ruling party would be defeated in the next election.

We could thus be presented with an entire constitution, with or without a preamble, with paragraphs, section titles, main principles, the functions of state institutions, fundamental rights, and budget considerations. Yet this wouldn’t mean it would necessarily be a constitution. For the function of modern constitutions is based on a history of close to 250 years and their main aim is to restrict the executive power and to guarantee people’s fundamental rights. In other words, constitutions are composed by a founding power that binds itself to law.

That’s why the current moves of Erdoğan and Bahçeli to consolidate their waning government do not qualify as the making of a new constitution. But if they insist on having a constitutional debate, we can also discuss the incidents around Boğaziçi University, which is nothing less but a “constitutional phenomenon.” An interview given by Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu in which he analyzed the recent incidents that took place at that university serves as good start as to understand the government’s objectives.

I will be brief on the preamble that reflects the “spirit” of the constitution. Süleyman Soylu’s view that citizens are dangerous terrorists would be reflected in the preamble. The existing preamble that was written by the plotters of the 1980 coup d’état and which was partially amended in 1995 can therefore be properly acknowledged and honored. After all, it is “potential terrorist citizens facing the holy Turkish state.” As Bahçeli put it, consideration for the new constitution “to protect the new system and be worthy of it” can be easily included in the preamble. Süleyman Soylu’s emphasis on Turkey being an Islamic country and his demand for the state to be ruled in accord with Islamic principles could also be included in the preamble.

The focus of the debate would substantially be Article Number 2. Article number 1 of the constitution states that the Turkish State is a republic. What I gather from what Süleyman Soylu’s comments on this is that it would be sufficient to add the phrase “national chief” for Erdoğan, for instance. This is because Soylu has repeated several times that the fate of Turkey depends on one person: Erdoğan. İyimaya or Şentop would find a formula to insert this.

Regarding the constitutional principles regarding the “Characteristics of the Republic,” one can gather hints of what the Erdoğan-Bahçeli alliance expects from the new constitution based on the ideas of Süleyman Soylu. Let us review his ideas within the scope of the principles that prevail. His ideas have actually recently been put into action during the Boğaziçi University incidents. 

Democratic state:

Süleyman Soylu defines democracy as “a factor in determining the country’s political preferences.” He openly says that universities “shouldn’t be democratic.” He has expressed that he wished that the management style of private companies based on productivity and performance, as well as profitability, would also be applied to universities. 

When one doesn’t not define democracy as a political regime or as the pillar of the state apparatus, but rather as a factor in decision-making processes, the model of “autonomous university” can be scraped entirely. The appointment of trustees to municipalities can serve as a general rule and be included in the new constitution. 

I think it’s safe to say that any mechanism based on self-governance would have no place in the new constitution. Thus, there would be no need to include the principle of a democratic state - which is the basis of each of the constitutional norms - in the new constitution.

Secular state:

Süleyman Soylu's views on the secular state are as follows: “The biggest power on this land is Islam, The LGBT movement is sheer perversion for my religion and my national identity order me to say so.” Based on this, it can be inferred that SS advocates the removal of the principles of the secular state from the constitution.

That’s because in a secular state, no religious rule can serve as the basis of any law on which the state is based, and cannot be associated with it. As a result of SS’s proposal, all religious communities, identities or ideas that are considered perverted according to Islam should be subject to a separate law. In fact, the current system already proves this.

Human rights:

I believe a simple quote from Süleyman Soylu would suffice here: “What you call a sniper is also an instrument used by the police.” That was Soylu’s answer to the question as to what the police were doing with snipers at Boğaziçi University.

Other incidents also occurred, such as the violation of “the presumption of innocence” of dozens of students when their names were associated with terrorism in several propaganda outlets. Students walking on the street were punched. The excessive use of force by the police. Those are the practices that will shape the catalogue of rights in the prospective new constitution.

Rule of law:

“I, as the Interior Minister of the State of Turkey, will not by any means allow any random entries into the office of the Rector” SS said. 

This piece has dragged on for too long. All week long, I’ve seen the images of torture and mistreatment of university students in the middle of the street, and listened to a man with blood dripping from his words. I think that’s enough.

This is the system that was established by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). What should be said to those who are content with this actual system, the same ones who have proposed a new constitution bid that “will protect the new system and will be worthy of it” is this: No constitution can be made in this weather. One cannot discuss the constitution with those who think that what has been done to the students, journalists, workers, villagers and small business owners serves them right.

September 29, 2021 Discussing the post-AKP era