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HomeHeadlineErdoğan's New Constitution: For Turkey or For Himself?

Erdoğan’s New Constitution: For Turkey or For Himself?

Necip F. Bahadir

The ‘new constitution’ is a never-ending story in politics. It comes up periodically, is discussed, debated, and then forgotten without reaching any conclusion. How many times has the AKP initiated constitutional reform? At the end of the day, they settled for partial changes. The new constitution has been on Erdoğan’s agenda for a while, and he has rekindled interest in it.

Next week, he has set the agenda for his meeting with CHP leader Özgür Özel as ‘new constitution’. Returning from Iraq, he told journalists that he would seek Özel’s support for a liberal and innovative constitution. And suddenly, the political agenda in Ankara was all about the ‘new constitution’ again.

Can the AKP and MHP coalition create a liberal constitution? That’s the first question… What does Erdoğan mean by ‘liberal’? Freedom for what? Freedom for whom? When the current constitution and laws, due to AKP’s policies, are interpreted in a narrow, oppressive way, how will the new constitution favor freedoms?

Doesn’t Turkey need a new constitution? Of course, it does. More than ever. The country is in dire need of a democratic, liberal, civilian, reformative, and modern constitution… The current constitution, a product of the September 12 military coup, looks like a patched bag. The AKP had opportunities, but the regime used these merely to strengthen and perpetuate its power.

The goal is to ‘revise’ the system! Taking advantage of the state of emergency, it radically changed the parliamentary system, leading to a bizarre form of governance that paved the way for ‘autocracy’. Now, for some reason, there’s a renewed appetite for a ‘new constitution’. What could possibly be under Erdoğan’s tongue?

It’s not hard to guess; to revise the system… To reduce the 50% plus one threshold to 40%… To allow a person to be elected for more than two terms… To include the freedom to wear headscarves in the constitution…

How do we know this? From previous statements by AKP members… When Erdoğan talks about a liberal and innovative constitution, this is what he means. Are these Turkey’s needs? Is there a problem with headscarves today? Is there a risk with a potential change in government? No. The issue of headscarves has been permanently removed from the country’s and politics’ agenda.

Erdoğan wants a ‘new constitution’ not for Turkey, but for ‘himself’. It doesn’t take great insight to see or understand this reality. Anyone with average intelligence and an interest in the political agenda can decipher Erdoğan’s intent. From coalition partners to the opposition block, all parties know what Erdoğan is really talking about.

The AKP cannot create a liberal and democratic constitution that would benefit the people and the country. Then, does it have the power to pass such a new constitution according to its own agenda through the Parliament?

Will MHP open the door to 40%+1? The March 31 elections changed the balance of politics. The AKP is no longer the sole boss of politics and the Parliament. The ruling coalition formed by the AKP and MHP has regressed, while the main opposition led by the CHP has gained strength. Although this result has not directly translated into the arithmetic of the Parliament, it has also damaged the parliament formed 10 months ago. In a way, it has reduced it to a ‘lame duck’.

Don’t be fooled by Erdoğan’s claim that ‘March 31 was only local’… He too is aware that the AKP is melting away like snow… That it’s impossible for it to rise again from where it fell… The reason for the debacle is himself and his policies. Since he can’t change himself, the people will change him…

Would Erdoğan have opened his doors to CHP Leader Özgür Özel if not for the March 31 defeat? Would he have invited him for tea at the April 23 reception? Erdoğan’s understanding of a leaders’ summit was limited to meeting with Bahçeli and other minor components. March 31 reminded him of the opposition. All these are not the effect of a butterfly but of the ballot box…

Even MHP, his only partner, objects to the AKP’s constitution. In past discussions, Bahçeli himself opposed reducing the presidential threshold to 40% plus one. The AKP’s intention was interpreted as an attempt to get rid of MHP. MHP immediately closed that door. Would it open it again? MHP is quite satisfied with the current system, which imprisons the AKP. It would be very difficult for the AKP to move together with MHP on the new constitution. Moreover, MHP has absurd demands like closing the Constitutional Court. Can the AKP agree to that? There’s no concession Erdoğan wouldn’t make in exchange for power, but even the AKP wouldn’t agree to close the Constitutional Court.

Devlet Bahçeli is pushing the limits! A few days ago, Devlet Bahçeli explosively criticized Mehmet Şimşek, whom Erdoğan brought in to head the economy, for using the phrase ‘local people’: “No one can deny that the corrupt mindset is the principal culprit of the scandals we have recently faced.” Bahçeli hit Erdoğan through Şimşek. What a strike…

In a normal political environment, after such words, everyone would go their separate ways. No partnership, no alliance, no political benefit would remain. The title ‘corrupter’ that Bahçeli assigned to Şimşek, whom Erdoğan handed the economy calling him a ‘savior’, is quite destructive… If Erdoğan’s tolerance is high, it’s only due to his concern for maintaining power. He sacrificed a figure like Bülent Arınç to MHP, but it’s a different story when it comes to Şimşek. By calling Şimşek ‘corrupter’, Bahçeli is pushing the boundaries.

Perhaps this is a reaction to the search for a ‘new constitution’ to revise the system. In politics, it’s common to ‘show right and hit left’. It seems more accurate to me to look for other reasons behind Bahçeli’s discomfort with Şimşek.

Can a new constitution emerge from this climate of power? As the poet says, “Can any good be expected from the dawn of such a night?”

Özgür Özel answered: First, comply with the existing Constitution! Erdoğan may be doing ‘numerical calculations’ through parties like Deva, Saadet, and Future, which he has enticed with the headscarf issue. His agenda might include ‘transferring deputies’ from the disintegrating İYİ Party. A wave of resignations is likely after the İYİ Party’s congress this weekend. Can the AKP, which cannot agree with MHP, find common ground with so many parties? Even if conservative parties that entered the Parliament on CHP lists say ‘yes’ to headscarves, why would they agree to revise the system in favor of the AKP? They all have their eyes on the AKP’s unraveling… So they can fill the space themselves.

Will the ‘new constitution’ be on the agenda of the Erdoğan – Özel summit? The AKP government has not yet achieved internal coherence. Özel gave his answer before the meeting even took place: “What will you do with the constitution you change? You change it to comply. Why don’t you comply with the constitution you changed last time? If you want to change something, first comply with the existing one and let’s see that!”

These words are clear; CHP is closed to the AKP’s ‘new constitution’ proposal. The constitution and laws have become a doormat under Erdoğan’s feet. Özgür Özel caught it right.

Can there be a constitution without CHP? Mathematically possible but politically never. Nothing will ever be the same after March 31. The arithmetic of the Parliament aged in 10 months.

The old ways are impossible now…

The center of power in politics has shifted from AKP to CHP. A constitutional effort without CHP and DEM cannot progress. Erdoğan is aware of this, which is why the first item on his agenda with Özel is the constitution… I wonder what Özel’s priority issue is? Actually, that’s more important.

We know Özel will object to ‘polarizing politics’. This is a search for normalization. Can Atalay’s case… The pitiful state of the judiciary… Dehumanizing images from prisons… Justice in agony… The trustee policy… Depending on the flow and tone of the meeting, it wouldn’t be surprising if the CHP leader brings up ‘early elections’. The summit could lead to unexpected results. After March 31, politics is pregnant with major developments.

I realize that the topic of the new constitution may not be very convincing. But if the political agenda is going to be about the new constitution for 10 days, should I have ignored it? Still, it opens up the horizon. I took an X-ray of the issue, not just a photograph.

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