According to the latest reports, preparations have sped up to present Turkish voters with a referendum sometime in the next six months on whether or not the country should transition to a new presidential system.
News published recently in the pro-government daily Akşam notes that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is preparing to turn up the heat on an all-encompassing campaign to promote the new presidential system.
In this vein, AKP MPs have already headed out across the country to spread the word that the proposed system will neither “create a dictatorship” nor “trigger division in the country.”
This particular piece of news follows late statements by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan about holding a conference on the topic of “changes to the constitution, and research into how to transition into a presidential system.”
It is by now an open secret that Erdoğan is unwilling to budge on his desire to see a transition into a “one man” presidential system
Likewise, it has become clear that just as he will not give up pursuing this idea, he also views any sort of bargaining and compromise -- no matter how dangerous or dirty -- as a legitimate means of achieving this goal.
And it is precisely for this reason that Turkey now rounds straight into the riskiest and hair-raising hairpin curve that it has ever faced.
During this extraordinary era in Turkey -- when justice is being openly trampled, when separation of powers has de facto melted away, when any sense of fairness in proceedings has faded to zero, when social polarization is at an all time high and while the Kurdish identity is under more pressure than ever before -- this desire and insistence of Erdoğan's comes tangled up with a whole series of very serious questions.
Perhaps the most important of these is one mentioned by former CHP MP Riza Turmen, who was at one time also a judge for the European Court of Human Rights. Speaking with T24, an independent online newspaper, Turmen said:
“Turkey has a democratization problem. If what you want is a democratic and compromising constitution, you are beholden to solving the Kurdish problems within the framework of said constitution. It can't happen any other way. And if you want a constitution that embraces everyone, you have to speak to everyone, including the HDP. If you leave the HDP outside the loop, it means you've given up on a compromising constitution. After all, there is a faction that the HDP represents. In the meantime, the CHP needs to make it clear what sort of a constitution it would like to see. But yes, solving the Kurdish problem will be possible through the constitution. The Kurdish problem is urgent; in order to achieve a peaceful and democratic constitution, there needs to be compromise, and this will help solve the problem.”
In the meantime, Turkey's justice foundations have been laid to such waste that the words from Turmen above, and any like them, can really only be spoken these days in a handful of independent media outlets, like T24.
At which point we can ask this crucial question:
In Turkey - as of 2016 - where almost all TV channels not to mention some 85-90 percent of printed news sources have been taken under control by the AKP -- through all sorts of illegitimate methods -- how is it that a new “social contract” that addresses all factions of society can actually be constructed with any legitimacy?
Let us repeat at this point that 2015 was the year that the ruling party successfully wrangled the country's justice system under control. And the same thing happened to what we could call the “central” media in this country.
Every day now, we witness new examples of how our justice system is no longer on the side of the individual, but instead spends its time rendering decisions anathema to freedom, and in favor of the state
While there are now only five TV channels that are critical and include a multitude of voices (IMC TV, Halk TV, Bengü TV, Can Erzincan TV and, to an extent, FoxTV), and while the printed press seems to be engaging in extraordinary levels of auto-censorship (especially when it comes to Kurdish issues), how will it be possible to achieve a healthy constitution?
How are we to read real news and engage in real debates about a possible transition to a new kind of presidency?
And in the meantime, the main opposition the Republican People's Party (CHP), rather than asking these pertinent questions and refusing to join the theater, plays instead a walk-on role in this ongoing play set into motion by the ruling party.
And as they do so, perhaps the greatest evil of all can be found in connection with our media.
The Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), which ought to be playing a constructive role in such historical developments, has been turned into what we can only call a flag-bearer for the ruling party. This recent incarnation of the TRT was confirmed by the fines that it received from the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) for its wildly imbalanced coverage of recent elections.
What the TRT has become is essentially a state broadcaster working for the sake of the AKP. The doors to its studios have long since been shut to anyone who openly expresses opposition to the ruling party.
From the time of the Gezi protests onwards, TV stations attached to large groups and holdings in Turkey have notably weeded out well known academic names and society leaders from their studio guest lists so that they are not visible in analysis or debate programs in the evenings.
To the extent that this sort of auto-censorship has become widespread in the Turkish media, the doors have also been flung open to specially processed news -- much of it lies and propaganda -- being presented to people as the truth. And because of this genetically ruined media, the people of Turkey are now largely condemned to ignorance on a wide range of topics which they need to know about.
As Türmen noted, how is there to be any healthy debate over a new constitution in the absence of opposition voices who don't happen to think as the state does? Seeing as changes to the constitution are essentially to be based on a transition to a new presidential system, how are voters heading to the ballot boxes supposed to be informed on this topic, what with the inevitable blocking of anyone who opposes it from the process?
Will changes to the constitution serve to open the path or shut it completely for Turkey?
Turkey is being pushed -- with the assistance of a flag-bearing media -- into a situation of fait accompli on this front.
What the CHP and all opposition parties must now cry, in one voice, is this:
Without making the media completely free and independent, and without giving all factions of society a chance to to speak and join in the debate, we will not engage in any talks about this proposed new constitution or the presidential system