Wednesday, April 21, 2010

BDP Continues to Resist Constitutional Reform

The BDP continues in its refusal to lend its support to the consitutional amendment package, insisting that the party will not be forced to choose between a weak reform package and the status quo. Instead of voting on the package, the BDP has made the decision to boycott the vote, joining the CHP in so doing. The move puts it in an untenable position, gaining the party leadership criticism both from within its own ranks and among some elements of Kurdish civil society. Imprisoned former PKK leader has said the BDP should not vote on the amendments until the Anti-Terrorism Law is lifted, and the BDP has maintained its position that it will not support the package until the government makes concessions on some of the reforms it is demanding, namely a lowering of the 10 percent threshold parties must attain in order to enter parliament, as well as amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Law (MGYK), the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), and provisions that would allow for a more equitable distribution of funds received by political parties from the Treasury. The party has also expressed demands that some of those arresed in the KCK operations be released. From Ayse Karabat at Today's Zaman:
Gülten Kışanak, the co-chairperson of the BDP, claimed while addressing her parliamentary group on Tuesday that with the constitutional reform package the public is being forced to either defend the status quo or to accept the amendments that do not respond to the democratic needs of the public. She also claimed that their constituents agree with them.

“There are efforts to mislead the public. There are claims that the voter base of the BDP is saying ‘yes’ to the constitutional amendments. These claims are trying to cheat our people, but our constituents are very well aware of what they need,” she said.

On the other hand, observers argue that the electorate in pro-Kurdish areas will have a tendency to say “yes” to the constitutional amendments when asked in a referendum. However, experts have underlined that if there is a call for a boycott from the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), then the grass roots might obey. At the beginning, the BDP gave conditional support to the constitutional amendments but then changed its position, especially after Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, who is serving a life sentence on İmralı Island in the Marmara Sea, told his lawyers several times that the constitutional reform package is full of inconsistencies. He also urged the BDP to form a strong front against the constitutional amendments if the conditions raised by the BDP were not met.

In the same speech, Kışanak mentioned the children in conflict with the law who are facing long prison sentences and the more than 1,000 BDP members, including some mayors, who are currently under arrest. She said the government claims to be making these constitutional amendments for the sake of democracy but that it is impossible to believe in the sincerity of the government while these groups are still under arrest. Kışanak also said that the judiciary is under the control of the deep state now but that after the constitutional amendments are passed, it will be under the control of the government.

“The constitutional reform package is forcing the public to choose either the military coup constitution or the constitution of the AK Party, which is not doing anything for the various groups in society and the working class. We are not obliged to accept this. We will follow a third path,” she said.

Bengi Yıldız, the parliamentary group chairman of the BDP, explained their reasoning and said the package disregarded the demands of the working class and that this was why they would not be a party to it. “We will show the color of our vote by boycotting it. We will not say ‘no,’ but neither will we say ‘yes.’ We will follow a third path,” he said.

He added that from the beginning their door had been open to the government to discuss their suggestions, but their views had not been taken into consideration in Parliament’s Constitution Commission. “The package submitted to Parliament is the package of the [ruling Justice and Development Party] AK Party. We will not be dragged behind any party,” he said. At the beginning of the constitutional reform package discussions, the BDP declared that they were not against it but that some steps towards democratization needed to be taken first.
Polls have showed that the constitutional amendments are favored by over 60 percent of the population in the southeast, though public relations efforts by the BDP and organizations close to it may change those numbers in coming weeks should the party not come to a compromise with the government. There is also a diversity of opinion on the issue within the BDP, including former DTP leader Ahmet Turk.

UPDATE I (4/23) -- The amendment pertaining to the closure of political parties cleared parliament with 337 votes after gaining support from five members of the BDP (Perivan Buldan, Sebahat Tuncel, Ayla Akat Ata, Hamit Geylani, and Bengi Yıldız). The BDP deputies said the AKP had called them to vote, and said they would be willing to render their assistance again if a similar gesture was made.

UPDATE II (4/23) -- Referencing Ahmet Turk, Today's Zaman columnist Yavuz Baydar criticizes the BDP's boycott of the vote on the amendment package.
Türk told our colleague Hasan Cemal the other day: “Yes, the constitutional reform package is inadequate in many respects. But, it is a positive move given the current situation, and it is an improvement, though limited. Therefore, it should be supported. It is wrong for the Peace and Democracy Party to be in the same boat as the Republican People’s Party [CHP] and the Nationalist Movement Party [MHP].”

Given his decades of experience and knowledge on Kurdish voters’ behavior, he may be right. Surveys show an even higher rate of support (over 60-65 percent) for the package among Kurds than the general population. Acting on devotion to the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rather than paying attention to the people in the street may not only be a strike against the party in the eyes of the latter but could also lead to a serious defeat in the next elections.

. . . .

Why does the party have this confrontational and seemingly irrational attitude? One explanation is to be sought in the contact between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the BDP before the package was taken into Parliament. The BDP leadership first demanded a brand new constitution and then switched to a set of conditions, such as lowering the election threshold from 10 percent, changes to the Counterterrorism Law and a release of the detained local Kurdish politicians in the “KCK [Kurdistan Communities Union] operations.” It has received no positive response from the AKP.

The main reason for the cold hand is tactical. The AKP leadership feels the heat of the anger that the “Kurdish initiative” has caused at the grassroots and party-base level and does not want to be seen in any sort of coordinated cooperation with BDP deputies in Parliament, despite the fact that at least some of their votes might be helpful. It would give an upper hand to the nationalists, it has argued. Instead, the AKP placed its trust on some “independents,” which turns the voting process into a razor’s edge.

Having understood the underlying reasons of AKP thinking, BDP deputies also play to their own “audience” by bringing up issues unrelated with the content of the package with an explosive rhetoric. This may be understood as part of Realpolitik and populism, but how it is perceived by a common Kurd is another matter. This is a source of justified concern for elderly politicians such as Türk. Were it up to him or his imaginary leadership, it would not be difficult to expect the BDP’s presence in the sessions and at least partial support for the package, enough to show the traditional voter of the party what the BDP stands for. In Türk’s mind, the BDP may not have won much on its conditions and demands as outlined above, but it would lose nothing if it “silently” supported the articles of the reform.

UPDATE III (4/27) -- There are indiciations that the BDP is softening in its opposition to the reform package, re-working its list of emands and seeking new consensus with the AKP. From Today's Zaman's Ayse Karabat:
Öcalan, in recent meetings with his lawyers, suggested that the BDP reconsider its position and give its conditional support to the reform package. Meanwhile there are ongoing negotiations between the government and the BDP on the issue. As a result of these negotiations, five BDP deputies voted for an article of the package regarding the closure of political parties. For the other articles of the package, the BDP is joining in the discussions in Parliament but boycotting the voting.

BDP Diyarbakır deputy Akın Birdal said, prior to the party’s Monday meeting in which the party’s position is expected to be reconsidered, that their demands are still on the table and they should be considered as part of the democratization process:

“It might take time to lower the election threshold but some changes in the TCK and anti-terror laws to bring the release of children and mayors who are under arrest can be easily done,” he said.

Security forces last year, in an operation allegedly against the urban branches of the PKK, arrested around 1,000 people, including several BDP mayors and pro-Kurdish politicians. There are many ongoing court cases involving children in southeastern and eastern Anatolia who participated in demonstrations and are facing trials as adults due to the TCK and the anti-terror law.

Birdal recalled that one of the most controversial articles of the reform package, regulating the structure of the Constitutional Court, passed with 331 votes, just one vote clear of the 330 required to pass.

“If the government really wants to finish the job it started, it should listen to us and should not see our demands as ‘concessions’ but as necessary steps for democratization,” he told Today’s Zaman.

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