Calculations on leaving the civil Constitution table

Calculations on leaving the civil Constitution table

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Calculations on leaving the civil Constitution table

DAILY NEWS photo / Selahattin SÖNMEZ

The Parliament Constitution Conciliation Commission held its first official meeting on Oct. 19, 2011, and started writing content in May 2012. The Commission has been working for 16 months so far and has handled 103 articles. On 31 of the articles a “general consensus” has been reached. The Commission has debated major parts of the chapters on “Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, Social and Economic Rights, Political Rights and Obligations, Legislature, Executive, Administration, Justice.” Before them now stands the writing of the content of the “preamble” section, the “general principles” chapter (which contains irreversible clauses), and the “financial and economic provisions.”

According to the Speaker of Parliament Cemil Çiçek, the debate on those chapters must be completed by the end of March, or the beginning of April. Each political party has its own calendar and, as time runs out, discussions on which party will be the first to walk out are intensifying. In Ankara corridors nowadays, the answer to the question of “who will be the first leave the table?” is being sought. According to the 15th clause of the memorandum of understanding that the four partiers signed up to, there are two ways that the task of the Commission could come to an end. The first one is when the constitutional draft is accepted in the General Assembly. The second one is when one of the political parties withdraws. Because political leaders do not want to look like they are the individual or party blocking the way to a civilian Constitution that society has high expectations of - even though they do not believe that a joint Constitution will be made between the four parties – they are continuing to insist to “stay at the table.” In other words, they are keeping their right to label their opponents with the “they left the table” stamp.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is working on the “they are gaining time” thesis, and wants to replace it with the “target of writing a civil Constitution together with the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP),” so that they can continue on their path. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is preparing ground to leave the old table so that a new table can be set up, by saying: “It could be March; it could be April; but it should not be delayed any further.” The target is to reach a result before April 23. Otherwise, it looks as if it is the AKP that is preparing to be the first to leave the table by saying: “We cannot write a Constitution forever. Society expects us to write a civil Constitution in place of the old ‘Coup Constitution.’”

The AKP has to do this because it has to start its 2013-2014 planning by April at the latest. Otherwise, it will have difficulty in meeting its new Constitution target - containing a referendum pledge - by securing the support of the BDP and the individual support of deputies from other parties. It does not want to miss this opportunity by insisting on the “presidential system.”

Based on arithmetic calculations, constitutional amendments that are passed by Parliament with between 330 and 367 of the votes are sent directly to a referendum. The AKP has 325 votes. The BDP has 34 elected names on its list, but five of them are in jail. If the AKP acts together with the BDP, then it could make a new Constitution at the border of the referendum. Because of the current stage at Parliament and because of the official referendum procedure that may last up to 60 days, the AKP is pressuring for an April deadline. In this circumstance, it is calculating that if the new Constitution is passed in Parliament before the beginning of July, then it will be able to take the new Constitution - containing the presidential system change - to a referendum in September. After that, the 2014 budget marathon and the campaign for the local elections in March 2014 will start. The election of the president (if the new Constitution is accepted this could be a president in a presidential system) will be held in August 2014. It is this calendar that lies behind the AKP’s urgency. Very soon, the AKP’s Constitution teams will start their propaganda work by going all around the country and preparing society.

Will the AKP’s calculations become reality? President Abdullah Gül’s stance will be particularly important, as his role is currently unclear in these road maps. It is apparent that the AKP corridors will start being very active after this month.

And the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)? It has been saying from the very first day that it will not leave the table, but it is a fact that the party has been - and will be - going through difficult times in the new Constitution process. The debate on the definition of “Turk” is one of the concrete examples. One does not need to be a prophet to say that the CHP will fall short during voting on such articles as “constitutional citizenship” for the new Constitution. However, the CHP is planning to hit the AKP over its “presidential system target.” Another historic resistance - similar to the one staged during the previous debate on internal regulations - has been among their planned objectives for a long time.

Thus, Turkey may witness a huge, unprecedented constitutional fight in the spring.

BDP the strongest candidate for the new table

If the process continues as planned then it will be the BDP that has the biggest number of gains at the table. For the moment, the BDP is not leaving the current table, but if the four are dispersed then it would be the party that is closest to the AKP at a new table. Despite the fact that co-chair of
the BDP Selahattin Demirtaş has declared his party’s opposition to the presidential system, it is understood that this will be part of the bargain. If the talks with Öcalan at İmralı island proceed as desired and if they yield the hoped for gains, then the BDP would wholeheartedly say “yes” to a civil Constitution that contains the presidential system and constitutional citizenship.

MHP preparing for tough move

The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, has favored remaining at the table and fighting in the Constitution Conciliation Commission from the first day on. As a matter of fact, the MHP has submitted similar proposals to that of the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) on many articles in the commission. It contradicts the AKP on a few important known aspects like the presidential system, constitutional citizenship and cultural representation of diverse identities in the Constitution. The MHP is expected to oppose the new Constitution to be brought to Parliament after a possible AKP-Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) alliance with unprecedented toughness.