The Venice Commission, a body of constitutional experts that advises the Council of Europe, has criticized a series of proposed changes to Turkey’s Constitution, warning that they are a “dangerous step backwards for democracy.”
In an opinion that was adopted on March 10 by the plenary of the Venice Commission and was made available today, the experts said the proposed amendments, which will be put to a national referendum on April 16, could lead to a “one-person regime” in Turkey. The proposed changes replace the current parliamentary system with a presidential one, giving vast executive powers to the president.
According to the Venice Commission, “by removing necessary checks and balances, the amendments would not follow the model of a democratic presidential system based on the separation of powers, and instead would risk degeneration into an authoritarian presidential system.”
It says the amendments let the president “exercise executive power alone, with unsupervised authority to appoint and dismiss ministers, and to appoint and dismiss all high officials on the basis of criteria determined by him or her alone.” They also allow the president be a member or even a leader of his or her party, which, according to the opinion, “would give him or her undue influence over the legislature.”
The Venice Commission further notes that the proposed amendments give the president the power “to dissolve parliament on any grounds whatsoever, which is fundamentally alien to democratic presidential systems.”
It also says the changes further weaken the “already inadequate system of judicial oversight of the executive” as well as the independence of the judiciary.
The Venice Commission opinion also raises several procedural concerns, including the fact that several deputies of the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were in prison when the Parliament voted on the proposed constitutional changes and that some deputies cast their votes in breach of secret ballot.
According to the Commission, the current state of emergency also “does not provide the proper democratic setting for a vote as important as a constitutional referendum.”
The Venice Commission opinion was requested by the Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, which said last week that Turkey should be made subject to monitoring again, citing a “serious deterioration of the functioning of democratic institutions in the country.” The committee also expressed deep concern at the “repeated violations of freedom of the media, the number of jailed journalists and the practices which are unacceptable in a democratic society.”
For full text of the Venice Commission opinion on the constitutional amendments, click here. http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2017)005-e