Moving toward a conservative-nationalist constitution?

Moving toward a conservative-nationalist constitution?

It was the night of Thursday, May 31 when Parliament’s Justice Commission approved a draft prepared by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government on a legal package covering bits and pieces of adjustments to penal code articles, ranging from heavier penalties for illegal eavesdropping to bribery. There is nothing unusual about that. What is unusual is a proposal added to the draft at the last minute, one jointly proposed by deputies from the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), to be approved by the votes of both parties with opposition from the social-democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Kurdish focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

If the draft is voted into law at the General Assembly it will reduce the penalties for those who committed serious crimes before the military coup of Sept. 12, 1980. For example, it would be possible to release two right-wing militants who were each charged with the death penalty seven times for killing seven unarmed leftist students in a house in Ankara in 1978. The two are still in jail serving life sentences, as Turkey has abolished the death penalty in the meantime.

The Justice Commission’s vote is only the latest example in a recent search for cooperation between the AKP and MHP. It is not public knowledge yet if there are talks taking place between the two parties behind closed doors, but it could easily be said that the statements of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli in the last week or so resemble a sort of proxy negotiation.

It started with Erdoğan’s May 25 speech, given during the heat of the Uludere blunder, in which he accused the CHP of dragging its feet in the parliamentary work to draft a new constitution. He said the AKP would try its best to have the constitution written with a four-party consensus, but was willing to settle for a consensus of one or two parties if the former was not possible. The next day Bahçeli surprised everyone by putting his support behind Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin, who had been criticized because of the Uludere incident and on the Kurdish issue in general, not only by the CHP and BDP but from within his own party, the AKP, as well. Then came Erdoğan’s address to his party group in Parliament May 29, in which he bombarded the CHP and BDP for everything visible, but spared the MHP. The same day Bahçeli praised the stance of the interior minister once again, and then the Justice Commission voted on May 31.

When considered together with the fault lines over the Kurdish issue and basic rights on Parliament’s constitution-drafting commission in recent weeks, there is sufficient indication to ask whether Erdoğan has a plan B, such as dumping the CHP and BDP and moving ahead with just the MHP in creating a new constitution, which would provide more than enough constitutional support in the Parliament. Erdoğan might also go to a referendum just to consolidate such a victory.

Just as a reminder, the two parties cooperated in 2008 on the freedom to wear the headscarf in universities, which was turned down by the Constitutional Court at that time upon the application of the CHP. But the circumstances now are quite different, including the composition of the court, and there might be something worth watching in this cooperation regarding the future of Turkish politics.