Thursday, April 10, 2008

AKP Will Likely Seek Early Elections

The AKP's Central Decision and Administrative Board met Monday and discussed what to do in light of MHP's recent announcement that it is unwilling to work with AKP should reform of Article 301 be introduced to Parliament. AKP had hoped to forge a cooperative agreement with MHP in hope of passing through a series of reforms that would include amendments to party closure laws. However, MHP's recalcitrance to work with the party should Article 301 reform be included in reforms to be introduced to Parliament in the coming months put AKP in a difficult spot. The resolution was this: AKP will continue to push forward with constitutional reforms, but will not back down on Article 301 reform. This means that the party will not likely acquire the 2/3 consensus it needs in the Parliament to pass constitutional amendments and will likely call early elections as a result.

AKP has the support of the Kurdish DTP, but opposition parties CHP and DSP have refused to consider amending the constitution during the pending closure case against AKP. The support of DTP is not enough and AKP must have MHP's support—a prospect that has been dimmed in light of the MHP ultimatum. Although some AKP members supported pushing the amendments through Parliament despite the presence of a parliamentary consensus (a move that would take the amendments to popular referendum following a 3/5 parliamentary vote in their favor), AKP leadership has rejected this approach as too confrontational.

In addition to concerns about the political stability should such a maneuver be taken, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek and former Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu also expressed legal concerns about any such amendments should they pass in a referendum. The Constitutional Court could well overrule the amendments once they passed referendum based on procedural grounds and the move would surely be aggressive enough to raise the threat of a coup. Their view was adopted by the party. Instead, AKP will hope to increase its electoral mandate by calling early parliamentary elections in expectation of securing a stronger majority in Parliament. After the meeting, AK Party Chairman Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat said,
"We will soon meet with opposition parties. We have decided to manage the litigation in its natural course, and our chairman will set up working groups to do this. We discussed the public's concerns about the future. It is obvious that in addition to litigation, this process will have wide-ranging political and economic repercussions. Of course, the litigation will run its course, but it is the duty of political institutions to take measures to safeguard the stability, peace, unity and integrity of the country against the political and economic consequences of this process."
However, such a decision is a considerable risk for AKP since the party might well be shut down after elections are held. On a positive note, the move would bolster AKP's standing in Europe (proof it is actually doing something) and should strengthen its legitimacy among liberal reformers who would have been greatly discouraged to see the party sell out Article 301 reform in exchange for MHP support. However, it also very much reflects the cautious approach AKP has adopted in relation to the oppositional deadlock. It is true that passing constitutional amendments á la referendum would be a confrontational and politically risky step forward, but it seems confrontation is almost unavoidable at this point if AKP is to pass meaningful democratic reform and keep itself intact at the same time.

Europe has provided a tremendous amount of diplomatic support and despite warnings from Bahçeli and others that the party should seek a resolution in Parliament (Bahçeli even recently suggested that Europe was complicating the process), the party should not discount this outside clout and come to grips with the reality of the political standstill it is facing in Parliament and the unworkability of the current constitution to pave the way for needed reforms. AKP might be more greatly benefitted by using EU support to enact bold reform than to move so cautiously as to re-inforce the claim against it that it is only concerned with its own survival. Also at its disposal is the threat of diplomatic isolation that Turkey will surely face should the powers-that-be actually enact a coup, although the more likely negative, of course, is the party being shut down after elections are held.

I know I expressed skepticism about ESI's recent proposal that AKP should abandon seeking the constitutional amendment process and bring the new constitution to referendum, but the MHP ultimatum and the continued lack of willingness to compromise lends support to the group's proposal. The fact of the matter is that as long as the government refuses to aggressively counter the powers-that-be, it will continually be strapped to overcome criticism of the state's human rights violations as a result of its unchanged policies toward its Kurdish population in the southeast, its harsh and arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression, and its political rules that allow for the easy and politically-motivated closure of parties despite overwhelming democratic mandates. Eventually, like the Kurdish population in the southeast, which has little hope that the state will ever meaningfully reform its ground rules for operation, Europe will lose its patience as well. What Olli Rehn called a "systemic failure" is indeed such and it is only by means of a systematic solution that the problem will be adequately addressed.

I am still very skeptical as to whether AKP is actually going to walk this road, but time will tell.

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