New constitution on agenda again

The so-called civilian constitution - to replace the current one, which was drafted by the military - was prepared by an independent commission headed by internationally renowned constitutional expert Professor.

New constitution on agenda again
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which had to shelve plans for a new and democratic constitution for Turkey after a closure case was filed against the party on March 14, has decided to reintroduce the package after the country's top court overturned a constitutional amendment a couple of weeks ago intended to end a ban on the Muslim headscarf at universities.

The top court recently overturned a constitutional amendment intended to end a ban on the Muslim headscarf at universities in a move that has been taken to mean the court is positioning itself above Parliament.

A senior cabinet member who wished to remain anonymous told Today's Zaman the new constitution reform package was the main subject discussed at Monday's Cabinet meeting as well as the gathering of the AK Party's Central Executive Board (MYK).

AK Party officials say they are unlikely to garner support from other political parties in Parliament for that change and may therefore take the amendment to referendum. "None of the parties which have a group in the Parliament have taken a stance against the Constitutional Court's headscarf ruling. This shows that we will remain alone on the constitutional package. However, given the circumstances Turkey is going through, we will act alone on the constitutional package," the same source said.

Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan, on the other hand, had slammed the court's decision, saying the judges had exceeded their powers and Turkey should discuss drafting a new constitution and establishing a senate in addition to Parliament. Toptan called main political party leaders to hold talks on the court's decision, but the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) refused to attend such a meeting, while the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader said he would only conditionally.

MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli had said he would not attend such a meeting if a declaration against the Constitutional Court decision was planned. As a result, Toptan delayed the meeting.

When Parliament seemed unable to produce solutions, the AK Party canceled the parliamentary recess initially scheduled to begin July 1 and decided to keep working until the result of the closure case against the party became clear; the AK Party deputies can in this way convene Parliament quickly if it becomes necessary to call early general elections.

The Constitutional Court's headscarf ruling will play a central role in a separate case launched on March 14 seeking to close the AK Party for anti-secular activities and ban 71 AK Party members, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as former AK Party member President Abdullah Gül, from political party membership for five years. Turkey has a history of banning political parties and the Virtue Party (FP), seen by some as the AK Party's predecessor, was banned in 2001 for Islamist activities.

Following the submission of the closure case, the AK Party first worked on a package of constitutional changes to make shutting down political parties in Turkey harder. However both the CHP and the smaller opposition Democratic Left Party (DSP) expressed that they were not in support of the changes. The MHP said it would support the changes but again, set down conditions for this support.

On the other hand, the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), currently facing a closure case as well, supported the change, but its support does not provide enough votes to pass the legislation.

Then AK Party then realized it would be impossible to pass a constitutional package without a referendum due to the current distribution of seats in Parliament. It hopes to return to Parliament with a higher majority of seats, enough to ensure the quorum needed to change the Constitution.

"The political parties which have seats in Parliament did not take a position against the Constitutional Court decision that annulled the change easing the headscarf ban at universities. That shows that we will not have enough support in Parliament to change the Constitution, so we need to take the initiative to do it ourselves," said party officials speaking under condition of anonymity.

The so-called civilian constitution -- to replace the current one, which was drafted by the military -- was prepared by an independent commission headed by internationally renowned constitutional expert Professor Ergun Özbudun, who was chosen for the task by Erdoğan. The package was shelved after the closure was opened on March 14 against the AK Party.

Advisors to the AK Party say taking the package to the people and holding early elections would turn into a "referendum of democracy."

AK Party officials, also taking into consideration the likelihood of early general elections and interim elections if the Constitutional Court decides to close down the AK Party, think that in such a case the court will adjust the number of deputies to be banned from politics in such a way that interim elections will not be obligatory. There are currently two empty seats in Turkey's 550-seat Parliament. If a political ban is imposed on 26 deputies, it will be obligatory to hold interim elections according to the Turkish Constitution. The closure case demands a ban on 38 AK Party deputies. In addition to this, 10 DTP deputies are also facing a political ban. AK Party officials, who term the AK Party closure case a politically-motivated one, think the court's ruling will be in compliance with the political environment and social engineers will take initiative to make a general election obligatory instead of an interim one at a time when the AK Party is suffering from the effects of closure.

The CHP claims that the current Parliament does not hold the authority to make comprehensive changes to the Constitution and that a new constitution can only be written by a founding Parliament. CHP leader Deniz Baykal had earlier said that such a constitution could only be written after the end of a coup period or a war for independence.

Countering Baykal's arguments, AK Party parliamentary group Deputy Chairman Bekir Bozdağ told Today's Zaman: "According to Baykal's mentality, Turkey must either be invaded or a military coup has to happen for Turkey to write a democratic constitution. It is impossible to accept such a mentality."

The MHP supports the AK Party's new constitution initiative, but thinks the term of the 23rd Parliament is complete and Parliament should be renewed with early elections to write a new constitution. The DTP says the step is a late but welcome move, asserting that the new constitution should be submitted to Parliament immediately.
Last Mod: 18 Haziran 2008, 08:01
Add Comment