Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement that he could seek joint action with the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) to secure the 330-seat parliamentary majority on a new constitution has piqued interest.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is five seats short of the 330-seat majority required to put the constitution draft on a referendum. It was the first time the prime minister said they could consider joint action with the BDP to close the gap. BDP’s reaction was positive.
In a sign that Erdogan’s idea could become reality, BDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas said that their proposals for the new constitution “do not overlap completely but the AKP is the party we are closest to.”
Prime Minister Erdogan wants to make a transition to a presidential system. His party has already submitted a proposal to this effect to the Constitution Conciliation Commission in parliament. The presidential system lays at the core of Erdogan’s effort for a new constitution.
The People’s Republican Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) have given the cold shoulder to the idea, and both favor the continuation of the parliamentary system.
The BDP, on the other hand, is essentially aiming to ensure that the new constitution grants autonomy to the southeast. This is the objective the party has focused on.
In return for Erdogan’s constitutional proposal for a presidential system, Demirtas put forward the following proposals:
1. The definition of citizenship should be changed. The new clause should not include the word “Turk.”
2. The new constitution should ensure guarantees for different languages and cultures.
3. Mother tongues should be used in all realms (the use of Kurdish as a language of education and in public services).
4. The granting of autonomy.
By reiterating those proposals while commenting on Erdogan’s message, Demirtas in fact said: “We will support a constitutional overhaul for a presidential system on the condition that those proposals are accepted.”
The Imrali process
In addition, Demirtas linked the issue to the talks currently underway with PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. The acceptance of their proposals, he said, would contribute to the Imrali process. That is, he hinted that the talks with Ocalan could evolve into an AKP-BDP alliance for a new constitution.
Kurdish lawmaker Ahmet Turk, who visited Ocalan in prison, had said on television that Ocalan was making references to the new constitution in his negotiations with the state.
And Demirtas has now linked the negotiation process with Ocalan to any support the BDP could give the AKP for a presidential system.
So, the government, and therefore the state, will be expected to project any deal they reach with Ocalan in Imrali on the new constitution. The improvement of Ocalan’s living arrangements, including the option of house arrest, will be also among the conditions. If those conditions are met, the BDP will shore up the ruling party’s seat deficit in parliament.
As a result, a referendum on a constitutional overhaul introducing a presidential system would amount also to a vote on the deal to be reached with Ocalan.
Not an easy prospect
The realization of such a formula does not seem easy.
Winning popular support for a new constitutional system while accepting Ocalan and BDP’s conditions would be a very hard process. Undoubtedly, Erdogan and his party will weigh the pros and cons.
The attitude of the CHP and the MHP would be important. MHP leader Devlet Bahceli has already given a harsh reaction, saying that, “The prime minister is making a new constitution with the PKK. Turkey is being put on the euthanasia chair.”
A new constitution based on negotiations with Ocalan and solely on BDP support would not amount to a broad political and social consensus.
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