Watch out for Jan 13 and 15 in Turkey

Watch out for Jan 13 and 15 in Turkey

Despite the prediction by Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ that the government bloc will have no difficulty in taking to a referendum on constitutional amendments for a shift to an executive presidential model, unexpected speculations have started between and within the parties at Turkey’s parliament, which could change the format of the changes.

Bozdağ said in a TV interview on Dec. 11 that he believed the constitutional amendments would be approved by parliament with more than 340 votes, a clear margin above the 330 minimum needed to take them to a referendum.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) together give full support for the package, which foresees the concentration of all executive power in the hands of the president, who will also be able to keep their title as party chairman, appoint the majority of Constitutional Court judges, issue decrees with the force of law, and be able to abolish parliament and renew elections.

The governing bloc secured 338, 347 and 240 votes in the first two days of talks on the amendments. The discussed articles included a provision that increases the number of seats in parliament from 550 to 600. In the end the whole of the package must get over 330 votes in order for a referendum on the changes to be held.

The relaxed mood that Justice Minister Bozdağ was trying to project does not reflect the heightened activity in the General Assembly and the political backstage. There, the AK Party gives the impression that it is worried about securing the amendments while the MHP leadership is working hard to secure unity its ranks against the efforts of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to influence discontented MPs within the AK Parti and MHP ranks.

MHP head Bahçeli, who made it possible for the AK Party to bring the amendments to parliament with his 180-degree turn - (he used to be a major opponent of Erdoğan’s presidential system shift) – has held one-on-one talks with an influential MP in his party, Yusuf Halaçoğlu, who announced he would vote against the amendments in defiance of his party’s official line. After the talk, Halaçoğlu told reporters that he had not changed his mind but had simply tried to explain to Bahçeli how the package would take the sovereignty given by people to parliament and instead give it to one person, the president.

The real surprise was a visit by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım to the opposition backstage in parliament on the evening of Jan. 10, when he drank a glass of tea with CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Kılıçdaroğlu asked Yıldırım to withdraw the package, saying the CHP would like to see Yıldırım stay as prime minister until the next election due in 2019. That was a reference to the fact that if the amendments are approved, the Prime Ministry as an institution will cease to exist and Yıldırım will effectively become any other MP unless Erdoğan appoints him as his “deputy president.”

The CHP on Jan. 11 held an extraordinary executive committee meeting in parliament to review proceedings. But criticism of the amendments is not limited to the CHP. There are a few articles that even AK Parti MPs are not all happy about. 

There are particular hesitations about decreasing the minimum age of elected officials to 18 in all parties, but there are three major articles that could have key importance for the flow of events in the constitutional voting process: 

- Article 8, which suggests the president will continue as a party chairman at the same time.

- Article 9, which gives the president the authority to issue decrees bypassing parliament.

- Article 12, which gives the president the power to abolish parliament and renew the elections.

With the current working pace of parliament, discussing two or three articles per day, it looks like those key articles could be debated and voted on in the General Assembly on Friday, Jan. 13 and Sunday, Jan. 15.

Turkish politics watchers should mark those days on their calendar and keep carefully monitoring the backstage bargaining.