“The sun is about to set, we need to make a decision before it gets dark,” Cemil Cicek, speaker of the Turkish Parliament and member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said today [May 3], as the Erdogan government’s patience runs thin in trying to persuade the members of the parliament’s Constitution Reconciliation Commission (CRC) to forge a new contract between the state and the citizens — as the AKP sees fit.
The 12 CRC members started their work to draft a new constitution in May 2012. This historic parliamentary commission is composed of three deputies from each elected party — AKP, Republican People’s Party (CHP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
While they have been able to reach consensus on 39 articles so far, the number of articles disagreed on far exceed that. The opposition claims that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s desire to change the parliamentary system into a presidential one has emerged as a stumbling bloc in their negotiations. The AKP side suggests that they are not really insisting on this issue, but could also propose a semi-presidential system, Turkish-style.
In February 2013, the CHP proposed to the CRC to hear from the Council of Europe’s advisory body — known as the Venice Commission — on constitutional matters to find a way out of this impasse, but it was turned down. The AKP, MHP and BDP argued that this new constitution should be a “national one” and foreign powers or bodies would not be allowed to interfere. Today’s Zaman reminded us on Feb. 25, however, that the AKP did seek the Venice Commission’s involvement in a constitutional reform approved on Sept. 12, 2010, saying its partners are states, not political parties.
Moreover, CHP and MHP commission members specifically express concern that the government has not briefed them on the negotiations between the AKP and Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader, to end the 40-year armed Kurdish struggle against the state, and that the media is their main source of information. They draw attention to the PKK statements revealing as to what their expectations from a new constitution would be, so that this peace process could conclude successfully.
“The prime minister demands an authoritarian one-man show constitution, and he wants to achieve this by cooperating with the PKK and BDP,” CHP Deputy Chairman Haluk Koc said today [May 3]. “They’re imposing a new constitution based on the ongoing negotiations with Imrali [an island off the coast of Bursa where Ocalan is imprisoned] and Kandil [where the PKK’s military command is stationed].”
While it has been a rare oddity to see any kind of cooperation and consensus-building in parliament in the last decade, none of the political parties want to emerge as the one having left the table, and call off CRC’s work. The Ankara political beltway speculates that the prime minister would expect Cemil Cicek to make the call as to how long the CRC can continue this work, so that it would not be the AKP to announce a time line. But Atilla Kart, a CHP deputy and member, said today that Cicek has no such authority to end the CRC’s work based on this commission’s guidelines. That being said, after a six-hour intense meeting with the CRC members today, Cicek released a brief written statement stating that the commission's work will resume May 7, and that they will continue their work until parliament calls for summer recess in late June. The statement, however, leaves room for speculation as to whether the CRC members will be able to reach a consensus in this time frame over the disputed articles, and what it will mean if they can't.
The reason why the Erdogan government’s patience is running thin with the CRC work is nothing but the election time line. After the parliament’s calls for summer recess and resuming its work in October, the country will already find itself in the election season. The local elections will be held in March 2014. In August 2014, Turks will also go to the polls to elect their president for the first time. In that framework, the speculation here is that the ideal time for the AKP to take its constitutional proposal to a referendum is sometime in October or November, before it starts snowing.
There are also speculations that because of this tight time line, the AKP may call off this year’s parliamentary recess and demand the deputies to continue their work through the summer until a consensus is reached. As the ruling party is going to gather in Kizilcahamam for its annual meeting this weekend [May 4-5], there will be more clarity about the way forward on these issues.
On March 8, Erdogan, however, already laid out his plan as to how to proceed in writing a new constitution if the CRC is nullified. “If the parliament’s Constitution Reconciliation Commission fails to draft the proposal for a constitution, we will put up our own proposal for discussion,” he said. “Firstly, we would implement our plan B and seek consensus with the CHP and then with the MHP. If we cannot obtain a result, we would implement our plan C and seek the help of the BDP. When we reach 330 [parliamentary] votes, we would ask our nation’s consent for our draft.”
According to Turkish law, a minimum of 330 votes is required for a constitutional change, and any motion that is accepted by less than 367 votes results in a referendum. The ruling party has 326 parliamentary seats. What makes this already complicated process more interesting is that the Ankara political beltway is filled with whispers that if the parliamentary voting for the constitution becomes secret — where no one’s vote is made known — there may be some 10 to 15 AKP members who could vote against the proposed draft. Therefore, Erdogan will likely make sure that the parliamentary vote is open, so that he can deter any of his party members from defecting.
That aside, all this rush to pass a new constitution creates new concerns. The president of the High Court of Appeals, Ali Alkan, warned today [May 3] that “the legality of a constitution that is made by the consensus of one or two parties will be open to question,” and that it won’t last long. Not that it is 100% guaranteed that the ruling party is going to win the favor of the public if it takes its constitutional proposal to them but it is certain that if it does, it will be the majority rule pushing aside the concerns of another segment of society — and that does not really give a picture to strengthen Turkey’s democracy, regardless of what it contains.
Tulin Daloglu is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Middle East Times, Foreign Policy, The Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report.
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