President Abdullah Gül joined the gloom on Monday. When asked about the new constitution, he said the following:
“…our Constitution of 1980 has become too narrow for Turkey and the work [to draft a new one] has started with the political parties’ principled agreement. And it has become clear that [reaching] a broad consensus is difficult. As far as I can see there is a deadlock now. So, if there will not be a new constitution, there are now prospects to move forward by making amendments to it. Let us see what the political parties finally decide but, as of today, there is deadlock over an entirely new constitution.”
The overall perception is that things are getting really complicated now. After a series of flip-flopping, the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission is to reconvene today to make an existential decision about the fate of this major reform process, which many segments in the society had contributed to enthusiastically in the past year, with high hopes tied to a new democratic order. The 12-member commission has already become a scene with tactical, cunning moves.
Last time it met, there was an agreement on extending the deadline to arrive at a draft by July 1 — the end of the summer recess. The extreme-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) stiffly opposed the extension. The main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), quickly changed its mind, declaring that it should be an open-ended process.
The excuse of both parties was that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is intent on a presidential system within the constitutional changes.
In a quick maneuver, the AKP threw the ball back in the opposition’s court. AKP figures were busy last weekend explaining that the party was ready to withdraw the proposal for a presidential system if the other three parties made their stand on it clear with open arguments, officially recorded by the commission.
This leaves the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the political wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as a key player in all tactical games. The BDP seems torn over support for the presidential system, mainly because it is busy in the midst of a crucial peace process, as PKK units are set on Wednesday to begin a historic withdrawal from Turkish soil. Some BDP figures have sounded categorically against being “utilized” by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his aspirations to be elected as an empowered president, but no one should take this staunch position for granted. The party may be poised for negotiations, a give-and-take over content in the draft which at the end of the day the party can find satisfactory. This deal would not exclude the section containing a proposal for a semi-presidential model.
The AKP has laid all its cards out on the table. By suggesting that the proposal for the presidential model could be abandoned, it aims to corner the CHP. Here, it may get reasonable backing from the BDP.
At the moment, only a third of the articles are agreed upon. Those are the less significant portions, leaving the crucial part in deadlock. No party, on the other hand, has the luxury to leave the table, because the one that does will be left with the whole bill.
The AKP may act cautiously so as not to be seen too close to the BDP. What it may do is, while pushing the CHP further into a corner, attempt to assemble the “agreed” one-third of the content as a patchy reform proposal to Parliament, in the hope of a referendum.
The AKP may push for a semi-presidential system before the BDP with the compromise of lowering the 10 percent election threshold to 4-5 percent — or even less. It will be tempting. Let us keep in mind also that with a PKK withdrawal, the AKP may launch a series of changes to laws concerning political parties and citizenship along with all reservations concerning the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
A lot depends on how the AKP-BDP interplay develops. But President Gül may very well be right in expressing gloom that a period of invaluable momentum for national reconciliation is now being lost for Turkey.