Turkey’s ruling alliance vows a new charter

Turkey’s ruling alliance vows a new charter

One of the staples of Turkish politics is writing a brand-new constitution. Although it was amended a number of times, the backbone of the Turkish constitution dates back to the 1980 military coup. Drafted by the military junta, the constitution was put to a national referendum in 1982.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a statement following a cabinet meeting late on Feb. 1, brought it back to Turkey’s agenda as he said the country needs a brand-new constitution. “It is time for Turkey to discuss a new constitution again. Works in this regard must be carried out right in front of the eyes of the people and with the participation of all of the nation’s representatives in a transparent manner, and the text to be produced must be submitted to the people for approval,” Erdoğan said.

His call was quickly endorsed by his main ally, Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). In a written statement on Feb. 2, Bahçeli said his party agreed about the need for a new constitution and was ready to cooperate with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Bahçeli said a new constitution was essential in order to strengthen the executive-presidential system, which has been in force since 2018.

Erdoğan and Bahçeli’s call for a new charter is certainly surprising. It came at a moment when the government is still drafting reform packages on the judiciary and economy. This new move can be analyzed under some important points:
First, it’s about the parliamentary composition. The AKP and the MHP do not have enough seats to change the constitution. They currently have 337 lawmakers, 63 too few to change the charter and 23 too few to go to a referendum. That shows they will exert a lot of pressure on the other parties to take part in joint works to draft a new constitution.

Bahçeli made it clear that the new constitution will lure political parties that don’t want to be seen in the same opposition alliance with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Both Erdoğan and Bahçeli will continue their efforts to bring the Good (İYİ) Party and Felicity Party (SP) to their side.

The Good Party has 37 lawmakers and can play a crucial role. The number of independent lawmakers has increased to seven after three MPs resigned from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), likely to join a new party being founded by CHP dissident Muharrem İnce.

Second, the Erdoğan-Bahçeli move comes as the Nation’s Alliance, which consists of the CHP, Good Party, SP and Democrat Party (DP), has accelerated works on what they call the “strengthened parliamentary system.” Plus, they are also talking with the Future Party and the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA). The new constitution from the People’s Alliance surely aims to overshadow the opposition’s efforts.

That’s why CHP officials criticized the government for “trying to divert the country’s agenda from existing economic, social and administrative problems.” The Good Party, in a written statement, underlined that what Erdoğan has in mind concerning the new constitution is obscure. But it pointed out that any constitutional change should also bring about amendments to the administrative system, meaning it will hardly support these changes if they don’t restore the parliamentary model.

It’s clear that the People’s Alliance will use this rhetoric on the new constitution as a new tool to weaken and divide the opposition alliance in the short run and direct the country’s political agenda in the long run.