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Turkish PM's words on three elections a tactic for reconciliation on constitution

A statement by the prime minister that Turkey may go to the ballot box three times in 2014 is indeed a tactic by the prime minister to force a parliamentary commission tasked with drafting a new constitution to successfully conclude its efforts soon, according to some politicians and political experts.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said over the weekend that Turkey may see three elections next year -- local elections, presidential elections and a referendum on a new constitution -- should the efforts by the four political parties represented in Parliament to write a new constitution fail to bear fruit in the coming months. Today's Zaman asked some leading political figures and experts about the intention of the prime minister in his remarks. For many, the prime minister is unlikely to express details of his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) agenda for the next year, but he is probably hoping to force members of the parliamentary Constitutional Reconciliation Commission to produce a draft soon.

The commission has to finish writing the draft by the end of June. It 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.

A senior official from the AK Party told Today's Zaman on the condition of anonymity that Erdoğan's remarks indicate a “tactic.” “The prime minister is hoping to focus people's attention on the opposition parties [to force those parties to reconcile on a new constitution]. In this way, the prime minister expresses the AK Party's strong will for a new constitution and reveals the opposition's reluctance on that issue,” the official stated, and suggested that the AK Party may also consider holding the parliamentary elections, scheduled for 2015, next year as part of its tactic.

The AK Party says the commission should speedily complete the draft, while the opposition parties believe the commission should work freely until it produces a draft.

Professor Vedat Bilgin, a lecturer at Gazi University in Ankara, said the prime minister mentioned three “possibilities” for 2014, but he does not think that they are part of a strong “strategy.” “Going to the ballot box for a referendum on a new constitution may be possible in theory, but we need to see if the distribution of deputies in Parliament will allow it. The AK Party may decide to move the parliamentary elections to an earlier date. [For me] three ballot boxes is not a strategy. It may instead be a presumption [for the AK Party],” he stated.

In late March, 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 means 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 Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have already expressed their unwillingness to cooperate with the AK Party. The sole option for the AK Party is the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which has 30 deputies. However, the AK Party is reluctant to cooperate with the BDP on the new constitution.

In 2007, the AK Party set up 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.

Former AK Party Deputy Chairman Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat said the best thing to do would be to dissolve the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission if the commission fails to agree on some 100 articles to be included in the new document by the end of June. The commission has agreed on around 40 articles so far. “In that case, the parliamentary elections may be moved to an earlier date and it may be held at the same time as the local elections [slated for March 2014],” he noted, adding that the AK Party would make a new constitution more easily if it wins 367 deputies in the next general elections.

According to prominent journalist Celal Kazdağlı, scheduling the next parliamentary elections on an earlier date will be a “must” if Parliament fails to make a brand a new constitution. “The prime minister wants to crown his party's 10th year in power with a new constitution. If the commission's efforts will mean a partial amendment to the constitution rather than a brand new document, then the existing Parliament will have reached its end of duty and early general elections will be brought to the country's agenda,” he stated.

A new constitution has been a top item on the agendas of several political parties, and particularly for 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 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.

If the parliamentary elections is moved to an earlier date and held in 2014, then the AK Party is likely to ask voters for greater support and help it have some 400 deputies in Parliament so that it could make a new constitution without needing the support of other political parties.

Opposition reacts
The prime minister's statement for three elections in 2014 has drawn reactions from opposition parties.

CHP Deputy Chairman Gürsel Tekin said the prime minister is working to “decide on the agenda of Turkey on his own” with his statement. According to Tekin, the prime minister is disturbed by the prospect that the country's new constitution will be a joint work of the four political parties. The deputy chairman also challenged Erdoğan by saying that the government may hold the parliamentary elections with the local elections in March of 2014.

MHP deputy Faruk Bal, one of the members in the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission, said the prime minister's statements on a new constitution has negative impacts on the commission. “If the AK Party wishes to quit the commission, it is free to do so. However, no one, including Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, has the authority to dissolve the commission. The prime minister wishes to change the agenda of the country and brings up topics so that people will discuss them,” he stated.

Democrat Party (DP) Chairman Gültekin Uysal said political parties in Parliament may engage in an “exchange of deputies” in the coming months to strengthen their hand in their aspirations for more power in Parliament. “The AK Party previously said a referendum on the new constitution would be held sometime in 2013. Now they imply that their plan has failed. … They [the AK Party] may seek to transfer some deputies to its ranks in order not to make itself appear in a negotiation with the BDP on a new constitution,” he stated, and added that the AK Party may also decide to move the general elections to an earlier date to force political parties to reconcile on a new constitution.

A calendar of three elections
•The local elections will be held in March next year and the presidential elections are scheduled for August next year. If moved earlier, the parliamentary elections may be merged either with the local or presidential elections.
•Depending on the distance covered by the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission, the referendum on the new constitution may be held either at the end of this year or merged with the presidential elections in August of 2014.
•If the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission fails to produce a draft by the end of June, the AK Party may bring its draft to Parliament if it believes it will secure the support of an adequate number of deputies to take the draft to a referendum.
•  However, if such support does not come from the opposition parties, then the AK Party may cancel its plans for a referendum.

Source: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-315998-.html

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