Deadlock on draft constitution clears way to destination

“Peace at home, peace abroad…”

If this over-the-top, repeated saying of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk has today any meaning left it all amounts to whether or not the current political class will be able to produce a constitution that will ensure serenity at home.

Let me assert once more: The current struggle in Turkey is all about this. The cleavage is between those who will push for a new system and those who will apply all instruments (including the peace process) at hand to block it.

A short summary: The cross-party draft commission, which had been unable to reach reasonable consensus by the end of 2012, also wasted the extended time it had till the end of March. On 65 articles about the fundamental rights and freedoms, it is at a standstill over 41 of them.

As agreed, the four parties that are represented in the commission handed over their own drafts last Friday. Today, all its members will meet to set up a modus operandi for overcoming their differences. It now has a final amount of extra time to show what it can do by the end of this month.

Realistically, not much is to be expected. Given the severe ideological deadlock, there will be no way to build bridges between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) – Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP)-Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) divide.

While the former is staunchly for a fundamental change, the latter is determined to maintain a system aimed at securing much of the status quo.

The CHP, a key actor in the picture, is severely torn on whether or not it will be part of the reform process or simply continue to delay/block it. In other words, it is still tramping on the same ground as it was when Turkey went to a referendum for partial constitutional reform in 2010.

A quick reading of the parties’ own four drafts show where they stand and where the process will be heading.

All four have chosen to have a preamble. The ones by the AKP and the BDP are short; the one by the latter — short and concise, beginning with “We, the people of Turkey” — looks more modern than all the others. It stands out for including a form of self-administration.

The AKP’s text does not include any reference to secularism, and uses the term “Turkish Nation.” It proposes Turkish as the “official language” of the state. Its segment on the presidential system will invite harsh debate as well.

The CHP’s draft largely reads like a copy and paste of the military-designed 1980 (current) Constitution. Its preamble has a reference to Atatürk by name, uses “devoted to Atatürk nationalism” and refrains from the word “official” when mentioning the Turkish language.

Despite a shorter preamble, the MHP did also adopt much of the 1980 Constitution, emphasizing the “indivisibility of Turkey” and nationalism. Both the CHP and the MHP also resort to the 1980 Constitution discourse that the “first three articles on the nature of the republic cannot even be proposed to be changed.”

So, the division in broad terms is two-two. There is little room for any attempt to break the impasse. This helps us understand what is next, and gives us a rough timetable.

By the end of April, the commission will have to dissolve. Only a proactive move by the CHP can change it; but given its internal rifts, this is a very remote possibility. This may leave Turkey a draft worked out by the AKP team, arguably absorbing some of the opposition’s proposals.

Add to this the fact that the PKK “peace process” is also running in parallel. For tactical and strategic reasons (keeping the peace process on the right track, ensuring reforms, having a powerful opinion behind and pushing for Erdoğan’s political ambitions, etc.) the AKP will have no choice but to proceed with a “long-distance joint venture” cooperation with the BDP. Both parties may succeed in enough votes for a referendum in late autumn, say, November.

Can Erdoğan deliver? Given the huge disarray within the CHP and good progress with the peace talks, he will have very strong arguments on his side.

It seems to be a one-way ticket for the AKP to the destination of a new system at the moment.