Busy legislative session could delay work on new constitution

Salih Kapusuz

June 19, 2011, Sunday/ 12:58:00

The most important job of the Parliament formed in the June 12 elections is to make a new and more democratic constitution to replace the current one, passed under military rule two years after the 1980 coup d’état; however, since drafting and adopting a new constitution is bound to take time, Parliament will have to introduce some bold reforms in the meantime.

The newly formed Parliament to be inaugurated on Oct. 1 will first elect chairmen to lead the existing 17 parliamentary commissions in charge of tackling various issues. After setting these commissions, Parliament will start legislative deliberations on some thorny issues, including freedom of the press and freedom of expression. In consideration of the growing number of journalists in detention due to actions associated with their profession, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has decided to amend the relevant articles on freedom of expression in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK); however, concluding that this will not suffice, the government will make some additional changes to the press bill.

Two draft bills whose preliminary studies were completed during the previous legislative term are expected to make it to Parliament for discussion and deliberations. Speaking to Today’s Zaman, AK Party parliamentary group Deputy Chairman Bekir Bozdağ said Parliament’s agenda would be determined after the election of the parliament speaker, saying: “There are very important bills from the previous legislative terms, including EU harmonization bills. We will make a plan and determine our priorities by Oct. 1.”

Another important legislative change to be discussed in Parliament will address the new ministerial structures. The AK Party, which will create six regular ministries to replace the eight state ministries, will convey the relevant legal amendments to Parliament in October. Significant legal changes are required for the dissolution and merger of the ministerial settings. New legislation is also necessary to define the duties and powers of deputy ministers.

Presidential election bill

The AK Party will also take the presidential election bill to Parliament. The AK Party administration, which previously referred the discussion over the duration of President Abdullah Gül’s term in office to the Supreme Election Board (YSK), will make sure that the relevant parts of the bill are discussed in Parliament.

Speaking to Today’s Zaman, AK Party Deputy Chairman Salih Kapusuz recalled the YSK’s decisions before the elections, by which it vetoed the candidacy of independent deputy candidates supported by the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and introduced hurdles for voters abroad, saying: “We will not leave the presidential election issue to the YSK. We will pass legislation on the matter and resolve the conundrum.”

Following the presidential election crisis of 2007, a constitutional amendment package envisaging electing the president by popular vote was voted on in a referendum where the overwhelming majority of the voters endorsed the arrangements. Legislative changes in accordance with the constitutional amendments should have been made after the referendum.

The bill, prepared by the Ministry of Justice in 2010, was adopted in the parliamentary Constitutional Commission but the government withdrew it. The draft, which will again be referred to Parliament after minor changes, states that a person may be elected president at most two times.

Reducing the president’s term in office to five years, the bill will clarify the election procedures and methods. The most important part of the bill addresses whether Gül’s term is five or seven years. It appears that the AK Party believes Gül’s term in office should be seven years, as he was elected by Parliament.

The AK Party, which has remained distant and indifferent to Republican People’s Party (CHP) and BDP suggestions to reduce the 10 percent election threshold, is preparing to make significant changes to the Election and Political Parties Bill.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has opposed the reduction of the threshold so far, announced in a statement shortly before the elections that the threshold could be reduced by a few points. Due to increasing pressure by the CHP and the BDP, the AK Party is expected to convey the projected amendments to the Election and Political Parties Bill to Parliament without further delay. Whether these amendments will be discussed before or after the constitutional amendments depends on the attitudes of the parties in Parliament. If these changes are made less than one year before the next parliamentary elections in 2015, the amendments will not be effective and applicable to those elections. For this reason, the AK Party is considering taking action on this matter without delay. The prospective amendments will also make state aid to parties below the threshold possible.

Reform to the military judiciary

Another reform bill that the AK Party will take to Parliament is on reforms in the military judiciary. The package envisaging the abolishment of the Military Supreme Court of Appeals proposed by the CHP before the elections is also included in the EU and constitutional harmonization laws. The CHP went even further, stressing that the General Staff should be subordinated to the Ministry of Defense.

The 26-article constitutional amendment package endorsed in the Sept. 12, 2010, referendum also included important details on the military judiciary. However, the government did not have time to enact new legislation to harmonize its current laws with the amended Constitution before the elections.

Changes to be made to the Military Penal Code, the Military Personnel Law, the Law on the Establishment of the Higher Military Administrative Court, the Military Court of Appeals Bill, the Military Judges Bill, the Army Internal Service Bill, the Law on the Powers and Duties of the General Staff and the Law on the States of Mobilization and War are considered substantial and vital reforms.

EU harmonization laws

Legislation is needed for the implementation of the constitutional amendment package adopted in September 2010, which envisaged the creation of an ombudsman’s office. The Ombudsman Bill, one of the EU harmonization laws, was vetoed by former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer in 2004. Sezer argued the bill was unconstitutional.

Discussion on the Ombudsman Bill, which has now been on Parliament’s agenda for 11 years, will be a top priority in Parliament’s new term. The Higher Education Board Bill, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors Bill and the Prisons and Detention Houses Bill will also be included in Parliament’s agenda in the upcoming term.

The EU harmonization regulations Parliament failed to make during the previous legislative term include bills on DNA data and a national DNA databank, mediation in legal disputes, external security services in the penitentiary and prison system, assistance for victims of rape, notary affairs, civil affairs, a human rights institution, combating terrorism, the protection of personal data and the protection of trade secrets.

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