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February 12, 2013, Tuesday

Political consensus on a new constitution

Turkey ushered in 2013 with great expectations for a new constitution that is currently being drafted for the country.

The work of the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission, which was specifically established to draft the new constitution, has been quite sluggish, however, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said his governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) will bring its own work on a new constitution to Parliament if the commission fails to conclude its task by the announced deadline of the end of March. The prime minister also said that his party might cooperate with the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) while drafting the new constitution and then take it to a referendum. Although it seems like a positive move to speed up the drafting process, columnists are mostly unhappy with Erdoğan's plan, arguing that a consensus between only two parties is not enough for the new constitution. Though it would be good to see the two parties agree on a draft, which would also be wise for improving the rights of Kurds in the country, at least one other party's approval of the draft should be obtained, they assert.

Taha Akyol from Hürriyet says many claim that the AK Party and the BDP should agree on a new draft of the constitution because Kurds and conservatives are the ones that were previously treated unfairly and if we have a new constitution that resolves the injustice, they argue that Turkey will be a much better place. However, Akyol and many other columnists disagree with that view, arguing that although it is important to have a consensus with the BDP over the new constitution, a consensus between those two parties is not sufficient for “social agreement." Also, the version of a constitution that these two parties would draft will likely be subject to harsh criticism from the public, he thinks.

The BDP has four principal demands for the new constitution: The right to education in the mother tongue, strengthening local government in Kurdish regions, reducing the 10 percent election threshold in the Political Parties Law and changing the article referring to “Turkish citizens” to say instead “citizens of the Republic of Turkey.” Taraf's Akın Özçer says the AK Party may not, and most probably will not, accept all four of the BDP's demands, but it is the only party that can seriously discuss the demands. The demands regarding local administrations and education in the mother tongue are the most challenging, but if the two parties reach an agreement on these, then it seems Turkey's new constitution will be a product of the two parties.

Radikal's Oral Çalışlar, on the other hand, says cooperation between the two parties requires that the BDP support the AK Party's plan of switching to a presidential system because the party seems determined to include the presidential system in the new constitution. The BDP does not mind switching to a presidential system as long as its four demands are met, Çalışlar says. The columnist is worried about the risks of the presidential system; however, he believes if the country's Kurdish issue is solved and the local administrations in Turkey are made stronger, Turkey could actually become a more “polyphonic” country, where the voices of different segments of the society are heard equally.


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