Parliament strained as charter talks start
HÜRRİYET photoThe Turkish parliament began debating on Jan. 9 a constitutional amendment package that will change the system into an executive presidency amid protests by opposition groups that say the move will result in a dictatorship.
While the four parties represented in parliament gathered to launch the process in the General Assembly, police attacked nongovernmental organizations and political groups outside parliament as they sought to protest the constitutional changes. Police dispersed groups with water cannon and violence.
“The heads of 100 nongovernmental organizations wanted to come and make statements here [in front of the parliament]. But now you see, parliament is under blockade, the roads are closed, there is a TOMA [a water cannon vehicle]. We are under siege,” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul lawmaker Aykut Erdoğdu said on Jan. 9, broadcasting the police blockade on the streets leading to parliament via a social media account.
“It is very wrong to block parliament on the eve of such an important constitutional change that will be discussed in parliament,” the main opposition deputy added.
The CHP group is planning to prolong the process by issuing proposals and non-confidence motions in order to emphasize their opposition.
“We think that the longer this process is going to be, the more useful it will be, the more likely these mistakes will be realized, and the constitutional proposal will be completely withdrawn,” CHP Deputy Group Chair Özgür Özel told state-run Anadolu Agency on Jan. 9, adding that the discussions which prolonged the process in the parliamentary commission were fruitful in that they created awareness about the importance of the amendment.
Özel’s comments came after the CHP convened its party group in parliament to set the strategies of the main opposition.
“We will give speeches on the entire constitutional amendment and then on each item. In addition, we may also propose that the material be removed from the text because it is contrary to the constitution,” Özel added.
AKP Group Deputy Chairperson Mustafa Elitaş criticized the CHP’s plan to suggest it would appeal the amendments on the grounds that they are anti-constitutional.
“The parliamentary spokesperson should not issue that contradiction to the constitution proposal because after the constitution has changed, it will become the material of the constitution,” he said.
Arguing that there would be “yes” votes from the CHP, Elitaş said the AKP would vote without defections.
“I am guessing that the number of deputies in the CHP that will say yes is close to 20. We will confirm whether the CHP will show courage to put MPs in the voting cabinet,” he added.
MHP deputy leader Semih Yalçın also opposed the CHP’s criticism that the amendment would pave the way for a federal system and ultimately the division of the country.
Yalçın stated in a written statement issued on Jan. 9 that with the efforts of the MHP, the unitary character of the country had been protected and that all the possibilities that would lead to a regime change or division had been eliminated.
The bloc of the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is making a special effort to prevent any defections from their parties in an effort to reach the 330 votes needed to bring the constitution to the referendum. The total number of votes of the two parties reaches 355, but seven lawmakers from the MHP have already publicly declared their opposition to the package.
The AKP lawmakers have suggested that some lawmakers may vote openly, an act which was interpreted as an effort to exert pressure on other lawmakers that might be considering voting against the package.
Peoples Democracy Party (HDP) Group Deputy Chairperson Filiz Kerestecioğlu stated that the HDP would say “no” to the constitution, adding that the HDP would try to make sure that the lawmakers vote in a secret ballot, despite pressures from the ruling party.
“We believe that some lawmakers who have the possibility to say ‘no’ will be pressured by other lawmakers; the government will use man-to-man marking,” Kerestecioğlu said on Jan. 9 at a press conference in parliament.
After the discussion on the general draft and the items, parliament will move onto voting on the items before lawmakers vote on the entire constitutional offer. The ruling party is hoping to end discussions on Jan. 24 while planning to hold a referendum on April 2, but the discussions and obstacles may result in the periods being exceeded.