Thursday, January 28, 2010

Squaring Off on Constitutional Amendments

The AKP is working on a new package of 22 constitutional amendments it might well put before Parliament in the next month. The package was drafted by the Parliamentary Constitutional Commission, headed by MP (AKP) Burhan Kuzu. The amendments have not been made public, and so it is unclear exactly what the AKP is planning on putting forward. On January 10, Kuzu had said that the AKP would not been seeking amendments to the constitution or to the election law, which stipulates that parties must receive at least ten percent of the total vote to enter parliament. I am not sure what changed, but so be it.

The last time Turkey's 1982 coup constitution was reformed was in 2004, when a number of amendments were passed in line with the Copenhagen political criteria for Turkey's accession into the European Union. Since the CHP and MHP have opposed the package, the AKP has threatened to send the amendments to referendum.

The CHP has promised to resist any attempt, vowing to apply to the Constitutional Court for the annulment of any amendment passed regardless of its content. The AKP has used the CHP's opposition as a reason not to bring new constitutional amendments forward.

Under Article 175 of the constitution, amendments can either be passed by a 2/3 majority of Parliament or by a popular referendum. In the second scenario, the amendments must pass the Parliament by a 3/5 majority and then be approved by a simple majority vote in the referendum. Additionally, it is possible that the amendment must be held by the Constitutional Court as not contravening the first four articles of the Turkish constitution, though there is significant legal debate on this point. The Court has a history of broadly interpreting these articles, which are in themselves vague and useful weapons for anti-reform forces.

In a new development, the MHP has expressed its willingness to work with the AKP on the amendments in order to prevent a referendum. This, in turn, is reported to have led the AKP to forestall introducing the amendment package to Parliament, instead sending it to the MHP for their input. The MHP is likely looking to avoid having the 2011 parliamentary election turn into a referendum on constitutional amendments, which would polarize the vote between the AKP and the CHP and leave little room for it to maneuver.

For a not very clear accounting of constitutional amendments passed in 2001 and 2004, see the EU Secretariat General for EU Affairs' summation of the reform process up to 2007. In August 2007, the AKP had promised to introduce a new constitution to replace the 1982 coup constitution. However, despite a committee being formed and a constitution drafted, it eventually fell victim to the turbulence that followed the headscarf reform and the AKP closure case.

Food for thought: during the closure case the European Stability Initiative called on the AKP to move forward with the new constitution by putting it to referendum. Of course, if the AKP did this, the Constitutional Court, as it is, would be dissolved. Additionally, Article 4, which forbids any amendment to the constitution that violates the first four articles, would go out the window. The result would be no less than a political revolution, and I am not really sure what would happen. The AKP has expressed no such plans, and though the idea of a new constitution lingers, it is nowhere close to being placed on the agenda.

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