Things get complicated

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.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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