Erdoğan may wait until after election for a new Constitution

Erdoğan may wait until after election for a new Constitution

It is his top priority to write a new Constitution giving him more executive powers, but Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan is likely to postpone this bid until after the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for June 2015. The apparent change is due to “pressing exterior conditions having reflections inside Turkey,” according to a government source who asked not to be named. The same remark was also made from a different angle by a ranking source from Parliament, who said the domestic political situation may not be suitable for President Erdoğan and Prime Minsiter Ahmet Davutoğlu to hold a vote for a new Constitution in Parliament or to take it to a referendum.

Erdoğan wants a French-style semi-Presidential system with a lesser role for the prime minister and more control of the legislative and judicial branches of government for the executive branch, under the president. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) has been preparing a draft bill to be submitted to Parliament when the political decision is made by Erdoğan and Davutoğlu.

However, there could be a series of difficulties before making the constitutional move before the June election, according to sources speaking to HDN on condition of anonymity:

1- With the current seat distribution in Parliament, it is impossible for the AK Parti to secure the two-thirds majority that is necessary for a constitutional change without collaboration with another party. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) could be a partner, but the CHP is clearly against a strong presidential system - especially as it will endorse new powers for Erdoğan. Support from the Democratic Peoples’ Party (HDP) for a constitutional amendment, which would be enough to take the AK Parti above the three-fifths majority, would need serious concessions for Erdoğan-Davutoğlu regarding the Kurdish issue. This could alienate an important part of the AK Parti grassroots.

2- The explosive situation on Turkey’s borders with Iraq and Syria has had unexpected effects on the dialogue between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in pursuit of a political solution to the Kurdish problem. The PKK’s military headquarters are in Iraq and its Syrian branch, the PYD, is engaged in a fierce fight against the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). Hundreds of PKK militants have crossed the border into Syria to join the fight against ISIL, and the HDP is demanding that the Turkish government lets even more cross, or even provide weapons to the PKK (which is still Turkey’s number one enemy according to the National Security Policy Document). 
Under these circumstances, the government is considering altering the peace process roadmap, limiting the demand for the PKK to abandon arms and accelerating the integration of PKK militants into civilian life within Turkish borders. It is not clear whether this will be enough for the PKK, and it might cause some discomfort within the AK Parti. So it is a risk ahead of the 2015 elections and also for the possible constitutional referendum afterward.

3- Erdoğan was elected president with 52 percent of the vote, but this was not a substantial increase on the number of votes for the AK Parti in the 2011 parliamentary elections. Studies carried out after the presidential elections showed that almost one-third of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) voters opted for Erdoğan in the presidential race. Their votes could not be taken for granted in the general elections and possible referendum, especially if more concessions than expected are made to the PKK for a settlement.
That is roughly the map of “external and domestic” factors affecting Erdoğan’s and Davutoğlu’s decisions for the timing of a possible constitutional change.

If the 2015 election results do not give the AK Parti enough of a majority in Parliament, Erdoğan’s target for a strong presidency might simply fail.

The government source I was talking to said the only thing that could alter the situation to make the constitutional changes before the election would be a very dramatic positive development on the Kurdish issue, but the “exterior” circumstances make this even more difficult.