The parliamentary Constitutional Reconciliation commission is entering its last month of technical deliberations aimed toward drafting a new constitution. On Sept. 19, 2011, when the commission of an equal number of representatives from the four parties represented in Parliament was established, a deadline for a new draft of the country's most fundamental law was set as the end of December 2012.
At that time, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan found the time allocated for the commission's duties to be too long and asked it to shorten the period. Now he stresses that the commission has to finalize its work in December 2012. Erdoğan has also remarked that in its current state of affairs, there is little hope that the commission will be able to draft a new constitution.
Of course, no one was expecting that four different political parties with different perspectives and expectations would easily reach a consensus. The commission members know very well the difficulty of the commission's task. However, the commission members are also fully aware that although they may not be able to reach a consensus over a draft of the constitution, their efforts to reach a consensus is a valuable experience for Turkish politics.
So, what will the benefits from this unique experience, the new constitution drafting process, be for Turkish politics?
The political parties, which had held their red lines, points at which issues could no longer be negotiated, at the beginning of the commission's deliberations are no longer doing so. Of course, they are still sensitive about some issues for which they will not make any concession nor will they leave open to discussion. However, all commission members have worked hard to reach a consensus over controversial issues. In order to make a positive contribution to the new constitution drafting process, the commission members have acted as bridges between the commission and their party administrations.
Although all the parties have not changed their attitudes to the same degree, compared to last year, they are now in a much more moderate position. Members of the parliamentary group have also admitted that each has worked sincerely to reach a consensus over controversial issues.
The commission has completed a draft of the first chapter of the new constitution, concerning fundamental rights and freedoms, and has begun discussions on the second chapter, on the functioning of the state and constitutional institutions. The debates about the presidential system have changed the prediction about the pace of work the commission will undergo during deliberations on the second chapter, which was expected to be finalized within a short period.
The debates about the presidential system both increased the number of controversial issues and showed that the time period allocated for the commission to finalize the draft of the new constitution is not enough. Despite the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) insistence that the draft constitution be completed by the end of the year, the opposition parties have pointed out that they did not agree on the deadline and that four or five months of additional time should be allocated to the commission if needed.
AK Party commission members are more open to an extension of the time reserved for the commission than the party administration. However, they have said that the progress made by the end of the year will be a decisive factor in a possible time extension. A commission member from the AK Party, who asked to remain anonymous, commented, "If the commission completes 80 or 90 percent of the draft, we would not be able to explain to the public why the AK Party left the negotiating table." In other words, if the commission discusses and reaches a consensus over a considerable number of the issues on its agenda, an additional time period, until February or March 2013, would be allocated to the commission. When asked whether or not such progress was possible by the end of the year, the lawmaker said he was still hopeful.
The determination of each party not to be the one that leaves the table is the guarantee for this. If the commission is able to finalize a draft even without 100 percent consensus, this will still be a huge step for the new constitution. This is because the draft that is submitted to party leaders will be discussed once again at that level, where the red lines could be softened once again. Even if the four political parties fail to reach a consensus on the new constitution, the draft of the new constitution could be ratified by Parliament upon the agreement of two or three parties.
December 2012 will be a critical month not only for the commission but also for Turkey's four political parties.