The way out for the new constitution

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) management most probably did not expect their »»

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) management most probably did not expect their third term in office, which they like to refer to as their “mastery” period, to have been as challenging as it has been. Good progress has been made with regard to the cases against Ergenekon and the Sledgehammer (Balyoz) coup plan.

The military has been trying to be in harmony with the government, society has been lending support to the initiative to draft a new constitution in search for basic rights and freedoms, and opposition parties have not only failed to develop any challenging project but have also been unable to catch up with the ruling party in terms of daily political polemics. But in most of the assessments made about one year after the elections, the AKP is perceived as acting slowly or ineffectually. While we cannot say that the government is having a hard time under the pressures of concrete problems, it is clear that it is suffering from the psychological frustration of being unable to satisfy society’s expectations.

But this is no surprise to us. I should note that this “slowness” is a strategy which the AKP is deliberately pursuing. Indeed, as its votes increased and it started to feel unchallenged, the AKP began to attach greater importance to a potential loss of electoral support and has made it its main aim to take measures against a potential failure when the “critical moment” comes. The “critical moment” is certainly the submission of the new constitution to Parliament. If the AKP had been able to go beyond a two-thirds majority in Parliament, this might have brought temporary relief, but possibly even that would not have been enough to eliminate their concerns.

There are two factors involved in this matter. The first factor is that neo-nationalists are still powerful in the security bureaucracy, bar associations, academic world and the media networks, and are able to make a move to consolidate the status quo in the event the government stumbles. Secondly, the AKP has postponed the solution of the Kurdish issue to the new constitution, and this has given the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) the opportunity to undermine the constitution drafting process. On the visible side of the matter, simple arithmetic is involved: If the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission cannot reach an agreement on certain ideological articles dealing with how to define citizenship or with decentralization, to which Kurds attach importance, the AKP will try to ally with the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and if this, too, fails, it will act alone to draft a constitution and submit it to Parliament. In this manner, it will try to secure a two-thirds majority in Parliament so that the draft text can be referred to a referendum. But what if the AKP fails to garner the support of additional deputies from other parties or loses some of its deputies in this process?

In other words, the extensive opposition coalition has a major opportunity: to beat the AKP --which they cannot beat on a social plane -- in Parliament. In this way, they will seek to prevent the government from making the constitution it promised to draft during election rallies and, after that, to force the AKP accept a so-called “new” constitution which will be almost identical to the old one. In the face of this dilemma, the government has opted to encourage social participation in the constitution-making process. Indeed, some prominent civil society organizations (CSOs) and the extensive institutional networks that have been established to this end have taken the lead with regard to the new constitution. So far hundreds of meetings have been held and hundreds of thousands of people have submitted their concrete proposals. For instance, the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) gathered together the proposals made to the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission as well as the proposals produced by civil society into 33 categories, and it will soon submit their findings to the commission and publish them.

These activities may reinforce the legitimacy needed by the government and push the opposition to act more responsibly. But it will not replace politics. So the AKP is still facing the risk of failure in one of its strongest areas.

Therefore, the question is, “How will the AKP overcome this dilemma politically?” The answer takes us directly to the Kurdish issue. Indeed, it is possible for the AKP to cooperate with the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) to make a more liberal constitution and easily take it to a referendum. Recent statements by some BDP officials indicate that their “democratic autonomy” demands are not far from the AKP’s understanding of the matter. On the other hand, the government knows that the BDP is not calling the shots in Kurdish politics and, moreover, it finds the PKK unreliable.

This argument is further reinforced by the fact that the government has recently renewed its interest in Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region; it is attaching great importance to the World Kurdish Scientific Congress (WKC2012), which will be held in Arbil (Oct. 12-14, 2012); and BDP officials are making frequent trips to the US.