Turkish opposition skeptical of Erdoğan's call for a new constitution

Publication date: 
Feb 03 2021

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's call for drafting a new constitution was met with skepticism by opposition parties, which question Erdoğan's motive in changing the existing one. 

While all parties agree that a new constitution is needed, the opposition emphasizes that the new one should include the return to a parliamentary system. 

Erdoğan on Feb. 1 said that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) may start working on drafting a new constitution, less than four years after overhauling the previous constitution to grant his office sweeping powers.

MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli immediately supported Erdoğan's call, saying that Turkey is "obligated" to replace its current constitution.

'No good would come from it'

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) dismissed Erdoğan's call. "No good would come from the constitutional amendments that they will make," CHP spokesperson Faik Öztrak said on Feb. 2. 

"They are doing this to change Turkey's agenda and for their own interests. They should focus on providing food for the people and not make them busy," he noted.

CHP deputy Ali Mahir Başarır made similar remarks, saying that Erdoğan is looking for ways to hold on to power since his votes have decreased significantly. He also noted that the CHP seeks to return to a parliamentary system. 

The right-wing Good (İYİ) Party asked what the planned changes include.

"Will it increase arbitrariness in the government or prioritize our people's needs? We don't know the amendments they are planning in the constitution that they had already changed four years ago," the party said in a statement. 

Turks had voted in favor of the constitutional changes in 2017, leading the country to switch from a parliamentary democracy to an executive presidential system despite strong backlash from opposition parties and critics.

Erdoğan was elected president under the new system in 2018, with sweeping executive powers that opposition parties described as a "one-man regime." The People's Alliance consisting of the AKP and the MHP have defended the system, saying it created a streamlined state apparatus.

'Separation of powers and independent judiciary'

Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) leader Ali Babacan was also skeptical of Erdoğan's remarks. 

"Those ruling Turkey don't believe in the separation of powers or an independent judiciary. Without these two, you can't find solutions to the country's problems no matter which part of the constitution you change," Babacan said. 

Erdoğan's remarks came weeks after Bahçeli suggested constitutional changes to ban the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) for separatism, a move the HDP condemned as an attempt to silence six million votes.

Bahçeli has long been a fierce critic of the HDP and, like Erdoğan, accuses it of links to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants who have fought a 36-year-old insurgency in southeast Turkey. The HDP denies this. 

Rights groups and Turkey's Western allies have criticized what they see as increasing authoritarianism and threats to the rule of law under Erdoğan, especially since a 2016 coup attempt that prompted sweeping crackdowns on his perceived opponents in public services, the military and elsewhere.

Turkish authorities have rejected the accusations, saying the measures were necessary for national security.

'Methods to cling to power'

According to legal experts, Erdoğan's move to change the constitution stems from the significant decrease in the People's Alliance's votes. 

"A constitution can't be drafted this way. It needs to be based on consensus and the participation of the people," former European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judge Rıza Türmen told the T24 news portal. 

"I see this as a political move. This is a move to attract the İYİ and Felicity parties. This is a manifestation of desperation. They try all the methods to cling to power," he said. 

At least 200 lawmakers need to submit proposals in order for changes to be made in the constitution and 360 votes are needed for the changes to be accepted. Currently, the AKP, MHP and the Great Unity Party (BBP), which also supports the People's Alliance, have 338 seats in parliament and can submit a draft bill, but it's impossible for it to be approved without the support of the opposition Nation Alliance. 

"They need to receive the support of one of the major parties. The People's Alliance needs to get the support of either the HDP, which has 56 seats, or the İYİ Party, which has 37 deputies. In such a scenario, the changes may be approved, but a referendum is necessary because the constitution stipulates that changes to the constitution must be asked to the public if they received between 360 and 400 votes in parliament," Assoc. Prof. Tolga Şirin said.

"At least 400 votes are required to change the constitution without a referendum, which also necessitates support from the CHP, which has 138 seats. So in short, the People's Alliance can submit such a proposal, but can't make it approved without support from the opposition," he said. 

While the opposition claims that one of the main aims of the proposed amendments is to remove the condition to get 50+1 percent of the votes to be elected president, AKP members deny this. 

Jailed HDP member Ayhan Bilgen, meanwhile, said that a new constitution that will focus on universal values is a public need. 

"The economy can't be improved without improving the judiciary. Even the process of discussing constitutional amendments is valuable for Turkey," Bilgen said in a series of tweets on Feb. 2. 

A day later, Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül said that a new and civilian constitution will be made "with our people," while Parliament Speaker Mustafa Şentop said that he is excited about the process.


Source: https://www.duvarenglish.com/turkish-opposition-skeptical-of-erdogans-ca...