Will AKP revise its presidential system?

Will AKP revise its presidential system?

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Will AKP revise its presidential system

Commission extended work until July 1 despite initial refusal of AKP when the party changed gears and gave the process two more months. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

The Constitution Conciliation Commission has extended its working period until July 1 with the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) approval, which initially was persistently opposing this.

Extending the commission’s work for two months is related to the peace process, but it is also a fact that this is based on some other calculations and concerns. The ruling party wants to see the concrete results of the withdrawal until mid-summer and also, it wants to hold the opportunity to change the game plan in the new Constitution process according to developments.

In the meantime the AKP wants to increase the number of clauses to the max that consensus has been reached on in the commission so that it has an advantage in a possible referendum. Because they are calculating that the more clauses on which consensus has been reached, then the pressure from the public could be lowered to the same extent in the cases of a new Constitution with a possible AKP-Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) alliance or a partial amendment.

For example, in a 50-clause package, if there are 40 clauses that the four parties have agreed upon, then the AKP considers that it can explain this to the public much more easily.

How much this calculation will prove right is open to debate…

At the AKP’s Kızılcahamam retreat, several surveys were brought to the table about the public resistance against the presidential system. The surveys revealed that the public’s desire for “a brand new Constitution” has gone back compared to one and a half years ago. The wish for “an amendment in the Constitution” has come to the forefront. It is understood that the “government’s insistence on the presidential system” triggers a backfire on the street…

The support for a constitutional amendment that introduces the presidential system is not at a desired level. My source, who did not want to reveal any figures related to the surveys, said, “The support for the presidential system does not even reach 50 percent in the public. In fact, it is much lower.”

The surveys point out to an interesting picture. Support for the presidential system among the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) voters is very low. There is no surprise in that. Also, the BDP voter does not prefer the presidential system either. The real surprise comes from the AKP voter. Voters who voted for the AKP in the June 2011 elections are now supporting the “presidential system” at less than 50 percent. This survey reveals that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was not able to persuade the mass who voted for his own party about the presidential system.

Concerns within the party erupt right at this spot. As a matter of fact, it is being whispered that Erdoğan said during the Kızılcahamam retreat, referring to the presidential system, “We have not been able to convince even our own friends.” The concern among the voters is also present among the deputies but it is not voiced yet. There are even some deputies who express their concerns in Parliament’s corridors about a possible defeat in the referendum regarding a new Constitution and prepared tete-a-tete with the BDP including the presidential system or a constitutional amendment package.

The reason why the alternative of “a president affiliated with a political party” is being mentioned frequently recently alongside with the presidential system is said to be related to this resistance. The AKP is preparing to launch an intense campaign for the two months ahead to change the “negative view on the presidential system” that has not been able to be broken on the street and even within the party.

The AKP will try to conduct the peace and the new Constitution processes over this platform of concern until July 1. What kind of a game plan will AKP resort to if it is not able to persuade the public in these two months?

If the AKP reaches an agreement with the BDP on an amendment package, then will it revise its presidential system offer and suggest a “party-affiliated president” instead? Or will it abandon its dreams of a presidential system or a president with a political party affiliation and continue its path by making a “democratic Constitution” within the current system?

My impression is that if the AKP is not able to break the resistance of the society against the presidential system, then it can revise its offer without seeking a four-party consensus. If it sits at a negotiation table with the BDP, it would suffice with the amendment of a “president with a party affiliation.” Considering the domestic and international conjuncture, it may have to postpone its presidential system demand to after 2015.

Parliament skips recess for peace

The concrete results of the peace process will come up within the next couple of months. On one hand the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants are withdrawing outside the borders, on the other hand the government is trying to meet the part of the process that belongs to it.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is planning to make Parliament, which is scheduled to recess on July 1, work all summer long. Parliament will be kept open through the month of July for the peace process, for a possible new Constitution or constitutional amendment package and legal amendments for democratization. August will also have an open end. As far as I have learned, this was told to deputies personally by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Kızılcahamam retreat.

Souvenir photos of the PKK

PKK militants started withdrawing from Turkey on May 8. An AKP deputy of Kurdish origin who I came across in Parliament’s lobby hall explained to me how peace had brought tranquility to the region. He gave me an interesting anecdote: “The arms have silenced and people’s eyes are smiling. This matter is over now. How am I certain that it is over? The PKK militants must be retreating, never to come back again, because they are meeting their families at crossing points in the mountains and are having souvenir photos taken with their guerilla outfits and arms for the last time.”