World Bulletin/News Desk
A parliamentary commission assigned to draft a new constitution is likely to extend its deadline for a third time since its establishment to be able to conclude the drafting as it convenes today to discuss its schedule.
In late March, the commission was given an extra one month to conclude drafting the new constitution. The deadline expires today. Members of the commission are set to convene this evening to discuss its new roadmap and decide whether to extend its schedule for a third time.
On Monday, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek said the “sun has begun to set” for the commission, implying that the commission has little time left to conclude its efforts on the new constitution. In separate remarks to two Turkish dailies, the speaker said, “If we [the commission] fail to conclude those efforts, then people will say we are worse than those who stage coups at drafting a constitution.” Çiçek is also head of the commission.
The existing Constitution was drafted following martial law in 1982 after a bloody coup d'état two years earlier in 1980. The document is often the focus of harsh criticism as it fails to provide for broader rights and freedoms.
According to the parliament speaker, all four political parties in the nation's legislature made pledges to their constituencies following the 2011 general elections that they would draft a new constitution at the beginning of the legislative year. “To this end, a commission was set up in Parliament, and it has carried on its work for the past one-and-a-half years. After all, it would not fit political norms to say that the commission is unable to draft a new constitution. This will lead to a decrease in people's trust in politics,” he told the Akit and Bugün dailies.
Çiçek also cautioned that a crisis over governance may emerge in Turkey in 2014 if political parties fail to draft a new constitution.
The new constitution is being drafted by the parliamentary Constitutional Reconciliation Commission, which has three members from each of the four political parties represented in Parliament. However, members of the commission have stark differences over many topics, which has made it hard to complete the new document.
The commission was scheduled to conclude its task by Dec. 31, 2012, but has failed to keep up with the schedule. It was then granted three extra months to conclude the drafting. That deadline expired on March 31. After the commission failed to conclude its work by the extended deadline, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) said an extra one month would be given to the commission.
A new constitution has been a top item on the agendas of several political parties, and particularly the AK Party. The AK Party vowed to prepare a new constitution when it first came to power in 2002. It renewed its pledge after the 2011 parliamentary elections.
According to Çiçek, it is growing harder for the parliamentary commission to conclude drafting the new constitution as Turkey nears local elections, which are slated for March 2014. “Political parties are working to decide on their candidates [for the elections]. They are holding preparation meetings and carrying out opinion polls [to predict their potential success in the elections]. The atmosphere is getting hotter,” he stated, and implied that political parties will not be able to focus on efforts for a new constitution at a time when they are competing in the local elections.
He also said critics will be fully right if they criticize the Parliament for failing to draft a new constitution in due time.
The commission has so far discussed 150 articles to be included in the new constitution, but members of the commission have only agreed on 28 of them. Members have stark differences on the remaining 122 articles.
Republican People's Party (CHP) Konya deputy Atilla Kart, who is one of the members of the commission, told Today's Zaman that the commission will convene at 7 p.m. today to discuss its calendar. He said the CHP does not favor the idea of allocating a limited time to the commission but rather believes the commission should work freely until it concludes the drafting.
Ayla Akad Ata from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) agreed, and said members of the commission are negatively impacted by the “time pressure” exerted by the AK Party government on them. “The commission has been striving to work under the pressure of time since December  due to the faulty mindset of the ruling party. We are currently working on articles which deal with executive power,” she stated, adding that the commission may share the draft it has prepared so far with the public.
Ata also said she expects the commission to complete the draft by the end of May.
Today's Zaman reached out to the AK Party's members in the commission, Mehmet Ali Şahin, Ahmet İyimaya and Mustafa Şentop, but the deputies declined to comment. Sources say deputies of the Republican People's Party (CHP), MHP and BDP will ask Çiçek to allow the commission to carry on its deliberations through May and June, as well. The AK Party, however, wants the deputies to make a “pledge” to the commission before agreeing to extend the commission's deadline. The pledge is that members of the three parties in the commission will promise to reach an agreement on around 90 percent of the articles of the new constitution until the end of June.
Referendum on AK Party's own draft an option
If the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission fails to reach an agreement to extend its calendar, then the AK Party may decide to take its own draft to referendum, news sources have claimed.
According to the sources, the AK Party may ask for the commission to dissolve itself during today's meeting and then announce its decision to take its own draft to referendum. In 2007, the AK Party set a commission chaired by professor of constitutional law Ergun Özbudun to work on drafting a new constitution. However, the draft prepared by this commission was never brought to Parliament.
In late March, Prime Minister and AK Party chairman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed doubt that the parliamentary commission would be able to conclude the drafting and suggested taking his party's own draft to referendum.
A new constitution needs the approval of two-thirds of Parliament, which makes 367 deputies, for ratification. It must be approved by 330 deputies to be taken to referendum. The AK Party has 327 deputies, which means it needs to cooperate with another political party to take its draft to referendum. The CHP and the MHP have already expressed their unwillingness to cooperate with the AK Party. The sole option for the AK Party is the BDP, which has 30 deputies. However, the AK Party is reluctant to cooperate with the BDP on the new constitution.
Last Mod: 30 Nisan 2013, 09:59