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Priority must be given to changing Turkey’s constitution

May 18, 2016 at 5:55 pm

The most prominent issue during the new phase in Turkey, which began with the sudden decision made by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, is changing the constitution from a parliamentary system to a presidential or semi-presidential system. This issue will be at the top of the new government’s list of priorities, which will be formed after Davutoglu.

There are a number of names on the table for potential Davutoglu successors. The most prominent of these names is Transport Minister Binali Yildirim. Turkish media outlets reported that the results of opinion polls conducted within the Justice and Development Party, in which the heads of the party branches located in various provinces and municipalities partook, put Yildirim as the top choice. This comes ahead of its extraordinary congress to choose its new leader and Turkey’s prime minister.

After this week, the Justice and Development Party will focus its efforts, under the new leader, on changing the constitution. It will take every legitimate path to transition from a parliamentary system to a presidential system, either by drafting a new constitution or making a constitutional amendment that solves the problem, at least partially, for now.

Nurettin Canikli, deputy head of the Justice and Development Party’s parliamentary group, made a statement last week saying that the party would present a draft constitutional amendment to the parliament by the middle of next month. The amendment would relate to four or five articles which would give the president the authority to act as a leader of a political party. However, Chairman of the Parliamentary Constitution Committee Mustafa Sentop, told Turkey’s Star newspaper about a new idea that involved each political party represented in parliament drafting a constitution based on their standards or criteria and all four constitutions would be presented to the Turkish public to make the final decision.

The current Turkish constitution was drafted by the military after the 1980 coup carried out by the Turkish army led by General Kenan Evren. Since then many of its articles have been amended but it still requires radical amendments in order to keep up with the democratic reforms and the needs of the current times. It is better to replace it with a new constitution that is more democratic through the consensus of the parties represented in parliament. However, this is almost impossible given the current political situation. Therefore, the Justice and Development Party must seek to achieve as much as it can in terms of changing the constitution based on the rule that “what cannot be completely attained, should not be completely left”.

Current Leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicdaroglu has recently started talking about the inability for Turkey to transition into a presidential system without bloodshed. These statements confirm that the leader of the main opposition party does not trust the will of the Turkish people and does not believe in the constitution, as the current constitution, which Kilicdaroglu is defending and refusing to change, gives the parliament the authority to amend the constitution or draft a new one. If, for example, the Justice and Development Party and the Nationalist Movement Party agree to pass any constitutional amendment and present it for public referendum and more than 50 per cent of those voting in the referendum support the amendment, it will automatically become part of the constitution and everyone must adhere to it.

Kilicdaroglu’s statements also indicate that the man is well aware that the Turkish people will not elect him as president in any free and fair election. Otherwise, he would not reject the idea of a transition from a parliamentary system to a presidential system with such ferocity. However, Kilicdaroglu’s provocative remarks and empty threats cannot stop the course of actions.

There does not seem to be any indicators that would suggest early elections are on the horizon. However, the failure of all efforts to amend the constitution in order to transition to a presidential system may lead to a political crisis that will make resorting to the ballot box and giving the masses control the ideal solution. We know that the Turkish people are skilled at resolving their political crises by means of elections, punishing the parties that complicate matters and cause the issues, as evidenced in the most recent elections.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.