AK Party contemplates referendum with mini constitution package


Parliament Speaker and Constitutional Reconciliation Commission head Cemil Çiçek speaks to reporters about the new constitution currently being drafted. (Photo: AA, Halil Sa??rkaya) 3 May 2013 /AL? ASLAN KILIÇ, ANKARA The governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is planning to take a “mini constitution package” to a referendum in the autumn if a parliamentary commission tasked with drafting a new civilian constitution fails to conclude the drafting soon.

The parliamentary Constitutional Reconciliation Commission met on Friday afternoon to discuss whether it will continue its work or stop its efforts to produce a draft. The decision of the commission was not immediately available by the time Today’s Zaman went to print. Also on Friday, a Turkish newspaper reported that the AK Party has agreed on a new roadmap to go ahead with its aspirations for a new constitution. If the commission fails to speedily complete the draft, the AK Party will take a 40-article package to a referendum. The majority of the articles will be those agreed on by all four political parties in the constitutional commission.
Today’s Zaman called the AK Party to learn about the details of the party’s referendum plans. A senior member of the party, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, said the AK Party has not made a statement about a mini constitution package to the media. However, he did not deny the claims about plans for the package or referendum. “A package may come or not. The opposition [parties] are in dismay. They are afraid that the AK Party may take the articles on which the [constitutional] commission has agreed to a referendum,” he stated.

The commission is composed of three members from each of the four political parties in Parliament. It met for the first time in mid-2011 and started gathering ideas from various segments of society pertaining to their demands for the country’s new constitution. As a result of this input, however, it only managed to begin drafting the articles in May of last year. The commission members differ greatly in their opinion on many topics, an issue which has made it difficult for them to complete the draft. Members have so far discussed some 150 articles but managed to agree on roughly 30 of them.

The AK Party says the commission should speedily complete the draft, while the opposition parties do not support the idea that a limited amount of time be given to the commission and rather believe the commission should work freely until it produces a draft.

If the commission fails to speedily complete the draft, the AK Party will take the some 30 articles on which the four political parties have agreed, include them into a draft constitution it prepared in 2007, and then take the final version of the draft to a referendum in September or October. The draft will also include the AK Party’s proposal to switch to a semi-presidential system.

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.

The Constitutional Reconciliation Commission was scheduled to complete its task by Dec. 31, 2012, but failed to keep to that schedule. It was then granted three additional months to produce the draft. That deadline expired on March 31. When the commission failed to conclude its work by the extended deadline, the AK Party said another month would be given to the commission. That deadline expired on April 30. The commission met on Friday to discuss whether to extend its calendar for a third time.

Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek on Friday spoke to reporters about the commission’s work and said the “sun is about to set” for the commission, implying that the commission has little time left to conclude its efforts to draft a new constitution. “We need to decide what to do before we are left in the darkness,” he added. He also called on all four parties in the commission to move quickly toward a final draft of the new constitution.

The AK Party official also said his party would agree to extend the calendar of the constitutional commission as there is such a demand coming from the other three parties. “If necessary, the commission may work in July and August. [In such a case] Parliament will not go on a summer recess. We have other plans as well,” he stated, without elaborating on those plans. He added that the AK Party may wait for the commission to conclude the drafting by September or October of this year.

AK Party parliamentary group deputy chairman Mustafa Elita? spoke to reporters on Friday and said, “The AK Party will do what it should on the new constitution and submit its own draft,” without elaborating when the party is planning to submit its draft to Parliament for discussion.

CHP unwilling to support AK Party package

The ruling party hopes to receive the support of the opposition parties when it brings the draft to Parliament for discussion.

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.

However, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is unwilling to support the AK Party’s constitutional package. The party’s Konya deputy, Atilla Kart, said, when speaking to Today’s Zaman, that going to a referendum with a mini constitutional package would be to the disadvantage of the country. “Such a move would sabotage the peace in the country. We would not like to even imagine it,” he stated. According to Kart, around 40 articles to be taken to a referendum would not meet the public’s expectations for a new constitution.

The deputy also complained that the commission is unable to conclude drafting the new constitution due to the AK Party’s insistence on switching to the presidential system. “They [the AK Party] say they will not withdraw their proposal [for a switch to the presidential system] and instead, that they may revise their proposal. And then they complain that the parties do not compromise on the new constitution,” Kart said. He added that the CHP may agree to work through the summer instead of going on a recess.

In Turkey, Parliament goes on a summer recess on July 1 and begins work on Oct. 1.

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.

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.

The AK Party will discuss the details of its plans for the new constitution and referendum during a retreat in K?z?lcahamam in Ankara over the weekend. Burhan Kuzu, the head of the commission, will inform AK Party deputies about the two issues. In addition, AK Party deputy Mehmet Ali ?ahin, a member of the constitution commission, will explain to the deputies about the work of the commission. He will also inform deputies about the draft constitution prepared by the AK Party.

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