Parliament starts final vote on charter draft

Parliament starts final vote on charter draft

Parliament starts final vote on charter draft

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Turkey’s Parliament has begun a second round of a vote on a constitutional amendment package to shift the current parliamentary system to an executive presidency amid last-minute efforts by the main opposition to convince their nationalist rivals to withdraw their support from the government-proposed legislation.  

Unlike the first round, there will be no comprehensive debate on the content of the package; instead the individual 18 articles and the entire package will be presented for a single vote. If the changes receive 330 votes, the amendments will go to a referendum.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is planning to finalize the voting in three days, and submit the charter draft to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Jan. 21 if lawmakers approve it by more than 330 votes. AKP officials have already expressed their expectation that the first round of voting has proven that this scenario is likely as the articles were passed with an average of 343 votes.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmakers have opposed the constitutional charter, arguing that it will compromise the principle of the separation of powers in democracy.

The opposition has also argued that AKP lawmakers violated the constitution by not adhering to the principle of secret voting in the first round so as to avoid any defections in the ruling party. The objection precipitated serious altercations in parliament in the first round.

“We will offer our body for the second round to be in accordance with the constitution,” the CHP’s group deputy chairperson, Özgür Özel, said Jan. 16, expressing their determination to carry their opposition to the second round.

“We will use all the rights given by the bylaw and the constitution. We will not let the AKP demolish this regime in any way,” he added. 

Criticizing the CHP for interfering in the working of parliament, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli said the amendment would be brought to a public vote.

“What is wrong with asking the opinion of the Turkish nation on the subject which is historical in character and which concerns its own future?” Bahçeli said, criticizing the CHP on Jan. 16.

“After the second round of talks, which will begin on Wednesday [Jan. 18] with Allah’s will, the constitutional amendment will be asked to our nation. This is my belief,” he said.

Opposition People’s Democracy Party (HDP) spokesperson Ayhan Bilgen said his party was strictly against the charter and that their vote for the parliamentary session and the referendum would be “no.”

“Our attitude is very clear: We will say no to this proposal [and support instead] a new democratic, civil and pluralistic constitution,” Bilgen said Jan. 17.

CHP leader conveys ‘concerns’

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu “conveyed his concerns” on the proposed constitutional amendments package to Bahçeli in a face-to-face meeting just hours before parliament was set to commence the second-round vote.

“The MHP is a very important political party in Turkey’s democratic history. I visited the chairman, sharing my concerns about the constitutional changes. I thank him very much,” Kılıçdaroğlu told reporters after the 45-minute meeting on Jan. 18.

For his part, Bahçeli remained tight-lipped, saying Kılıçdaroğlu simply “said what needs to be told.”

He added that the CHP head strongly criticized the constitutional amendment that introduces a shift from a parliamentary system to an executive presidency, calling the move an attempt to weaken the Turkish parliament and democracy.

The amendments are supported by the AKP and the MHP and all received more than 330 votes, the required majority to take them to a referendum, in the first rounds of voting.

Civil society ask lawmakers to say ‘no’

Members of the “Platform for Labor and Democratic Power Committee,” composed of organizations such as the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK), Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK) and the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB), sent a letter to the AKP and MHP lawmakers to ask them to vote “no” on the proposed amendment.

“This system will destroy parliamentary democracy,” Adil Çiftçi, an Istanbul representative for DİSK, said on behalf of the committee on Jan. 18 at a press conference in Istanbul.

Çiftçi said they sent the letter to the AKP-MHP bloc, asking them to revisit their decision on the charter.