Andrew Arato is an expert in constitutions, a pressing topic in Turkey right now.
I read the news about the Turkish referendum on constitutional reforms with great interest. Turkey is a bridge between East and West. Europe meets Asia in modern booming Istanbul. It’s a place where the commitment to democracy and to an open Islam is the official policy of the governing Justice and Development Party. It’s a place of great hope and promise, where instead of the clash of civilizations, there is dialogue and reinvention. But it is also a place where people committed to secularism worry about the prospects for their modern way of life. I tried to follow the news reports about what happened, but they were unclear. I understood that a sweeping package of constitutional reforms were approved, that the referendum purported to bring the Turkish constitution up to European standards, but also that the opposition was claiming that the package was a systematic power grab. Is this a sign of democratic progress as the ruling party spokesman declared, or is it, as the opposition declared, a significant regression? I called my friend and New School colleague, Andrew Arato, a distinguished expert on constitutions, who has been working with a group of young scholars on constitutional issues in Turkey. He agreed to answer my questions. I opened by asking him whether the referendum results were good or bad news?
I think bad. The successful Turkish referendum of September 12 was ultimately about court packing. Not only is the manner of choosing judges for the Court now altered, but six new judges presumably friendly to the government will be added to the Court within 30 days.
This is a point missed by almost all Western commentary on the event. Court packing is always bad business. The way is now almost open for the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, the ruling Party with leaders who have an Islamist, but are committed to membership in the European Union) to remake the country’s secular constitution entirely on its own.