Venice Commission’s 110th PLENARY – Proposed constitutional amendments “dangerous step backwards” for democracy

The 110th plenary of the Venice Commission has just adopted its Opinion on the constitutional amendments submitted to a national referendum on 16 April 2017. This opinion had been requested by the Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly.

First of all, the Commission warns against a “one-person regime” in Turkey in its definitive, as discussed and adopted in plenary, text of the opinion.

The Commission notes that 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.

Conclusions of the opinion include the following:

• letting the new 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;
• allowing the President to be a member and even the leader of his or her political party, that would give him or her undue influence over the legislature;
• giving the President the power to dissolve parliament on any grounds whatsoever, which is fundamentally alien to democratic presidential systems
• further weakening the already inadequate system of judicial oversight of the executive.
• further weakening the independence of the judiciary.

In addition, the opinion raises serious procedural concerns. For example, Turkey’s parliament approved the amendments to be put to referendum, when several deputies from the second largest opposition party were in jail. The vote for approving the amendments was cast in breach of secret ballot, casting doubt on the genuine nature of support for reform and on the personal nature of the deputies’ vote.

Furthermore, the current state of emergency does not provide the proper democratic setting for a vote as important as a constitutional referendum, the experts concluded.
Every state has the right to choose its own political system, be it presidential or parliamentary or mixed, but this right is not unconditional.

The text of this opinion, as fully adopted, will be made available on Monday 13 March. Two other opinions on Turkey, (1) Turkey’s emergency decree laws and their relation to media freedom and (2) The duties, competences and functioning of the criminal peace judgeships, should also be made available early next week.