Deputy PM hopeful of opposition support for taking new constitution to referendum

Deputy PM hopeful of opposition support for taking new constitution to referendum

Deputy PM hopeful of opposition support for taking new constitution to referendum

AA Photo

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş has voiced optimism for finding enough support to take a new constitution to a referendum with the help of deputies from the opposition parties.

Writing a new constitution is a “must” for this parliamentary term, Kurtulmuş said on March 12.

“Despite our numerical majority at parliament, holding 317 [seats], we said ‘Let’s not do it according to numbers, let every party equally assign three people,’ and we got started,” he said in an interview on private broadcaster Ülke TV, referring to the stalled efforts of a cross-party parliamentary commission to form a new constitution.

“[The ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP] does not have a majority sufficient to write the constitution alone. We don’t have enough seats to provide 330 votes only from our own party and appeal to the nation. But party groups shouldn’t make ‘group decisions’ on constitutional issues. Lawmakers vote according to their own consciences. I believe that an effort to find 367 seats can achieve its goal. If not, we could go to the nation [in a referendum] with 330 seats and then the nation makes its decision. I believe that 330 could be found with the right endeavor inside parliament,” Kurtulmuş added.

In the Nov. 1, 2015, election the AKP secured 317 seats in the 550-member parliament. For a constitutional change in parliament, a party needs to win 367 seats, although 330 are enough to take a constitutional change to a referendum.

Currently the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) holds 133 seats, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) holds 59 seats, and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) holds 40 seats, while one seat is occupied by an independent deputy who was recently expelled from the CHP.

Formally, groups can take a “group decision” and impose it on all deputies of the party except for in specific voting sessions outlined in the constitution. Adoptions of constitutional amendments, however, are voted on in a secret ballot. 

The AKP had set a six-month calendar for a parliamentary panel tasked with forging a new constitution, but the panel, which started working on Feb. 4, was dissolved in mid-February after just three sessions. The CHP left the negotiation table on Feb. 16, arguing that AKP members had considered all subjects discussed in the sessions under the umbrella of shifting to a presidential system, a desire repeatedly cited by leading figures from the ruling party and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman has since called on Turkey’s four political parties to reconvene around the negotiation table.