Is the AKP forcing the opposition to leave the constitution-drafting process?

Is the AKP forcing the opposition to leave the constitution-drafting process?

Turkey is a country of contradictions. On Sunday, while hundreds of people from all segments of society gathered in a very high spirit of democracy in Antalya to discuss the new constitution, lawmakers from three top political parties fought tooth and nail over a controversial education bill under the roof of Parliament.

The unfortunate fight among the lawmakers occurred after the ruling party rushed the bill through the Education Commission, packing the hall in advance with more than 100 lawmakers. The opposition deputies, along with reporters, found themselves stuck at the door of the tiny room, which paved the way for the head of the commission to take advantage of the chaos and read out 21 articles in only half an hour, which were approved by ruling party votes.

Among the many reactions coming from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) over Sunday’s incident, one was especially remarkable. The deputy leader of the CHP, Gürsel Tekin, denied that his party’s representatives would quit the Constitutional Conciliation Commission, and vowed again that the social democratic party will not leave the table under any circumstances.

Though one might think that this remark was irrelevant, it’s fairly certain that it reflects the way the social democratic party has read recent political moves on the part of the ruling party. It believes that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is purposely attempting to raise the tension before May 1, the day the Parliament’s Constitutional Conciliation Commission will begin drafting the new charter.

Echoing similar concerns, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek expressed his concerns about the constitution-making process, given the fact that the parties can even not agree on the education bill. Many in Ankara believe that the ruling party has a clear strategy of taking advantage of the oppositional parties’ commitment to the new charter. Therefore, increasing the tension in Parliament will only work to benefit of the ruling party, which plans on one hand to pass laws it gives priority to and on the other hand to force the oppositional parties to leave the Constitutional Conciliation Commission.

This assumption is based on arguments that the AKP is no longer very much attached to the ideal of renewing the country’s constitution. In the case that the charter-making process fails, the AKP would lay the entire blame for that on the opposition and begin its own work to amend the Constitution. This supposition also envisages a more nationalistic and religion-motivated policy on the part of the AKP, whose aim is to protect its 50-percent electoral majority ahead of a charter referendum and the next presidential election, both set for 2014.

Under the current conditions, despite the genuine efforts and contributions of the civil society, a civilian constitution aimed at promoting more democracy and freedom in Turkey will have to wait for another spring.