In a letter sent to all political party leaders represented in the legislature, Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan proposed forming four parliamentary committees to work on the planned changes to the current Constitution, parliamentary bylaws, EU harmonization legislation, the Law on Political Parties, the Elections Law, Funding of Political Activities Law and the Political Ethics Law. All parties with the exception of the CHP agreed to contribute members to the committees. The AK Party, on the other hand, doesn't think the CHP's exclusion would block or stall the work of the committees, which are scheduled to start their activities on Oct. 1. Toptan's letter requests two members from each party for the committees. The AK Party, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the Democratic Society Party (DTP), the Democratic Left Party (DSP), the Grand Unity Party (BBP) and the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP) have announced that they will support the committee and started work to determine their nominees.
However, Kemal Anadol, deputy head of the CHP's parliamentary group, in a press conference last week announced his party's stance that Turkey does not need a new constitution, stating that the current 1982 Constitution -- often criticized for being anti-democratic as the remnant of the 1980 military takeover in Turkey -- has been amended so many times that it is no longer a coup period constitution. Also last week, CHP Deputy Chairman Mustafa Özyürek noted in a press statement that his party would not be supporting any attempts for constitutional change.
Özyürek told Today's Zaman, "We are of the opinion that a new constitution is unnecessary. But we are agreeable to making changes to laws on political parties and elections, with the condition that parliamentary immunities are done away with."
Following these harsh and very clear statements from the CHP, the prevailing opinion was that it was going to be very difficult to bring about Toptan's proposal to form committees on the planned legislative changes because a constitutional change without the CHP runs the risk of being annulled by a Constitutional Court ruling if the CHP challenges it after its adoption in Parliament. This probability would not exist if the CHP were to participate in the committee drafting the constitution. But, to the contrary, the CHP has vowed to take the new constitution to court.
The decision announced on June 5 by the Constitutional Court to cancel constitutional amendments that would have opened the way for women to wear the headscarf at universities signaled that the new constitution could also be annulled. The June 5 ruling of the court found that Parliament violated the constitutionally enshrined principle of secularism when it passed amendments to lift the headscarf ban on university campuses. The amendments were adopted by an overwhelming majority of Parliament.
Appeals to the Constitutional Court for annulment can be made only by a petition signed by at least 110 deputies, the main opposition party or by the president. The CHP had the DSP's support (and thus 110 signatures) in its opposition to the headscarf ruling. In a successful attempt to call off the presidential election in April 2007, the CHP appealed as the main opposition party. So many are asking, in view of the past, if it is possible for the four committees to proceed with their work without the CHP.
Nihat Ergün, a deputy leader of the AK Party's parliamentary group, told Today's Zaman that in 1995 a committee formed to devise a new constitution was formed by then Parliament Speaker Hüsamettin Cindoruk, but had to stop its work halfway through. Ergün noted that for such committees to reach a common decision and be successful, all parties have to have good intentions. He said the 1995 committee had members from all political parties, but that these members did their best to prevent changes from being made to the Constitution. "Turkey's democratization cannot be based on the CHP's attitude. The CHP's presence is not necessary in the committees," he added.
According to the MHP, which has announced its full support for the planned constitutional and other legislative changes, the CHP can be convinced to contribute members to the committees through negotiations. MHP Deputy Chairman Cihan Paçacı, in a phone interview with Today's Zaman, stated, "If the AK Party drafts a bill to remove political immunities, we can convince the CHP." However, Paçacı also noted that extra attention should be paid to preventing a committee without the CHP from failing. "If the CHP does not adopt a positive stance despite a move on immunities, the public should be informed about how the CHP is stalling the process."
Another party promising full support for the committees is the Democratic Society Party (DTP). "We have always taken our stance on the side of reaching agreement. We have always stated that we will support constitutional reform. Now we have started preparations to assign our deputies to these committees based on specialization. This is a great opportunity; it shouldn't be missed," said Hasip Kaplan, the DTP's deputy from Şırnak.
Angı replaces Şaban Dişli
This Wednesday the AK Party's Central Decision and Administration Board (MKYK) will meet to discuss a replacement for Şaban Dişli, the party's former deputy chairman who resigned two weeks ago over allegations of corruption. Sources say Konya deputy Hasan Angı is the person most likely to replace Dişli; however, the possibility of the board assigning Bursa deputy Altan Karapaşoğlu to the post has not yet been ruled out. Sources say Angı's chances are higher since the prime minister personally supports his assignment to the post.