"We will not replace the entire Constitution. We will change it in part," Erdogan told reporters yesterday during the inauguration of Turkey’s first high-speed train, running between Ankara and Eskisehir. Among the topics to be changed in the Constitution are the Law on Political Parties, the Election Law, the Ombudsman Law and the right to petition the Constitutional Court individually.
Last month, Erdogan announced plans to accelerate efforts for a civilian constitution shortly after the upcoming local elections, slated for March 29. He said the AK Party had devised two alternate plans to pass the new constitution in Parliament. According to Erdogan, the party would pass the new civilian constitution in Parliament either as a whole or in fragments. The final version would be presented to the public in a referendum.
In 2007 the AK Party geared up to write a new civilian constitution that could meet the country’s contemporary needs, forming an independent commission headed by Professor Ergun Özbudun to draft the document. However, the work was shelved when a closure case was filed against the AK Party in March of last year on charges of anti-secularism.
Worried that the opposition may appeal the new constitution to the Constitutional Court, the government plans to have Parliament pass them in segments. Efforts to change the Constitution will be accelerated shortly after the March 29 elections.
Following a decision by the Constitutional Court’s to refrain from disbanding the AK Party in late June, the governing party decided to speed up efforts to replace the Constitution.
But efforts to this end were stalled again, this time by approaching local elections, on which the ruling party has concentrated all its attention. The AK Party is expected to refocus on its work on a new constitution that will respond to the Turkish people’s expectations for improved democratic rights following the elections.
However, the party is still worried that the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) may take the new constitution to the Constitutional Court to have it annulled after it is passed by Parliament.
"It is rather difficult to change the Constitution in Turkey. We are worried that any constitutional change on fundamental rights and freedoms and the judiciary will be turned into a debate of the regime by the main opposition party," Cemil Çiçek, deputy prime minister, told Today’s Zaman.
Çiçek added that the AK Party government considers dividing planned changes on the Constitution into pieces and having Parliament pass them in segments. "We prefer to begin with changes on less problematic issues, such as the Ombudsman Law. There is no need to worry. Planned changes will be presented to the public in a referendum even if they are approved by more than 367 deputies in Parliament," he stated.
Parliament approved a change on the Ombudsman Law in past years, when former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer was in office. Sezer vetoed the change in 2006 and justified his decision by saying that the Constitution does not contain the definition of an ombudsman. The move was considered a setback to government efforts to meet EU accession requirements.
Burhan Kuzu, the head of Parliament’s Constitutional Commission, expressed regret that the government feels obliged to partially change the Constitution.
"I wish we could change the Constitution as a whole, but balances in Parliament show that such a thing is not possible. Thus, we plan to start the changes from less problematic articles," he said.
AK Party parliamentary group deputy chairman Nihat Ergün expressed similar regret, adding that circumstances have forced the party to resort to the partial change of the Constitution.
The CHP doesn’t plan to lend support to efforts to change the Constitution. Party officials previously announced that cooperating with a political party that the top court ruled had engaged in anti-secular activities was not among the party’s plans.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) stated it would back government efforts to replace the Constitution with a more civilian one, provided that the first four articles remain untouched.
The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) unconditionally backs replacing the current Constitution with a more civilian document.