Turkey's hopes for a new constitution, meant to improve democratic freedoms and to further distance it from the era of military coups, suffered a setback on November 18th when a cross-party commission admitted it has failed in drafting a new charter.
A parliamentary commission set up to draft a new constitution for Turkey has failed and will be dissolved, a senior ruling party official said. The cross-party panel had been trying for two years to reconcile its differences on some of the most deeply divisive issues in modern Turkey, from the definition of Turkish citizenship to the protection of religious freedoms. The four parties – the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the republican people’s CHP, the Kurdish BDP and nationalist MHP opposition parties - had only reached agreement on around 60 articles, less than half of what a draft would require, and the talks had become deadlocked over recent weeks.
Constitution as part of Erdoğan’s legacy
Drafting a new constitution was among Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s third term election pledges in 2011 and was meant to replace a text born out of the 1980 coup which, despite numerous revisions, still bears the stamp of a military descent. Erdoğan has dominated politics since his AK Party came to office in 2002, presiding over Turkey's emergence as a power in the Middle East and over a rise in prosperity. He has muzzled a military that had ousted four governments since 1960, almost winning a battle with the old secular elite which emerged when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the modern republic on the World War One ruins of the Ottoman Empire. A new constitution was part of the legacy Erdoğan had hoped to bequeath.
One of the most contentious issues had been the creation of an executive presidency championed by Erdoğan, although he had signaled willingness to drop this demand in recent months in the interests of reaching a broader consensus. Erdoğan, arguably the most powerful Turkish leader since Atatürk, has made little secret of his ambition to run for president in polls due next year. The failure of the commission will make parliamentary elections, due in 2015, all the more important. If Erdoğan's AK Party can control a two thirds majority, he could introduce reforms without opposition support, including the creation of a strong executive presidency.
Barred by party rules from running for prime minister again, Erdoğan had wanted to bring teeth to the post of the presidency that is now largely ceremonial. But his opponents, along with some dissenting voices in his own party, fear an executive presidency could hand too much power to a man they view as having increasingly authoritarian tendencies.