Constitution commission convenes to discuss work so far

A parliamentary commission assigned to draft a new constitution gathered on Monday to discuss the work of the commission thus far and decide whether or not to go ahead with efforts to create a new document following the prime minister's comment that the commission's deadline to conclude its work was April 1.

Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy Ahmet Iyimaya, who is also a member of the commission, spoke to reporters before the meeting and said the commission should maintain its “potential for reconciliation.” “This is not an independent commission. It has support coming from political parties. The commission cannot carry on its work without those parties. I support the idea that the commission should be maintained to enable reconciliation [among political parties for a new constitution],” he stated, and added that all political parties represented on the commission would make a decision on whether or not to allow the commission to go ahead with its works.

The parliamentary Constitutional Reconciliation Commission was originally scheduled to conclude its task by Dec. 31, 2012, but it failed to meet that schedule. It was then granted three extra months to conclude the draft. The extension expired on April 1.

In televised remarks last week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the commission was unlikely to meet the April 1 deadline and suggested taking his party's own draft of a new constitution to a referendum.

Also on Monday, Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Atilla Kart said the commission's calendar can only be decided by members of the commission, not by the prime minister. “The prime minister should respect the will of the people. He should not put pressure on the commission or attempt to block the work of the commission,” he stated. Kart also said the commission would continue to work until it completes drafting a new constitution.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy Oktay Ozturk was also among the participants at the commission meeting on Monday. Beforehand, the deputy told reporters that the commission would keep working, but it would be hard for the commission to work under pressure from the prime minister. “We are carrying on with our work. We will continue until it is all over. But a constitution cannot be drafted under pressure,” he complained.

Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek, who heads the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission, was scheduled to hold another meeting with members of the commission on Monday evening. It was not clear if the meeting took place by the time Today's Zaman went to print. Speaking about the members' meeting earlier in the day, Cicek said, “We have left behind the most fruitful times. Members of the commission convened to discuss the point we were able to reach,” he said, and added that members of the commission should be clearer about their demands for extra time to be granted to the commission. “It is not a satisfactory statement to say that no one should hurry to complete the draft constitution,” he stated.

The existing Constitution, drafted under martial law following the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d'état, is frequently criticized on the grounds that it fails to respond to today's needs for broader rights and freedoms for individuals. A new constitution has been a top item on the agendas of several political parties, and particularly the AK Party. The AK Party vowed to prepare a new constitution when it first came to power in 2002. It renewed its pledge after the 2011 parliamentary elections.

‘AK Party decisive on new constitution'

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag also spoke about the commission's work on Monday and he said the AK Party would never give up its aspiration for a new constitution. However, he said, the commission should work harder than ever as a busy schedule awaits Turkey. “We have the local and presidential elections ahead [in 2014]. So, 2013 is vital [for the new constitution],” he noted.

Bozdag also said the AK Party would keep trying to negotiate with the opposition parties regarding the new constitution. “If we cannot reach an agreement [with the CHP and the BDP], then we will sit at the table with the Peace and Democracy Party [BDP]. But we cannot pass the new constitution in Parliament with just the BDP. We will go to a referendum,” he stated.

The deputy prime minister also expressed confidence that the public will support the AK Party version of the new constitution in a referendum.