A long-expected drive to rewrite Turkey’s constitution is set to kick off this week with the formation of a cross-party commission in Parliament to work on drafting the new charter, which the president said “should not bear the seal of any party, ideology or doctrine.”
Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek has prepared letters asking the four parties in Parliament to assign two representatives each for the commission by Friday, parliamentary sources said, adding that the invitations were expected to be sent out as soon as Monday.
In a further effort, a delegation of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is set to meet this week with counterparts from the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, to discuss the constitution-making process. The AKP requested the meeting in a letter it sent late Saturday, shortly after the pro-Kurdish lawmakers took their oaths at Parliament’s opening session, formally ending a boycott over five colleagues who remain in jail.
In his inaugural speech for the new legislative year, President Abdullah Gül told Parliament on Saturday that “the new constitution should not bear the seal of any particular idea, party, ideology or doctrine.”
The new charter “must be of a flexible character based on freedoms,” he said. “The basic principle should be to refrain from using the constitution as a means for controlling different political views.”
The overhaul “should strengthen and guarantee the concept of equal citizenship in every aspect,” Gül added, stressing the right “of every segment of the population to live as itself.”
The AKP team has already held talks with the two other opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last week that work on the new charter should be wrapped up in the first half of 2012, prompting angry reactions from the opposition that the AKP intended to rush the process and impose its own priorities on the charter.
Erdoğan insisted Saturday the process should be swift. “We have mobilized our people on this. We can finish the job through a swift consensus if we manage to complete the commission work this year and then submit [the draft] to Parliament,” he said.
BDP back with defiant message
Despite the easing of political tensions after the BDP’s return to Ankara, the party maintained its criticism of the government and sent a defiant message that it would continue to support Kurdish street protests.
BDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş denounced a government motion seeking a one-year extension of a mandate for military action in northern Iraq against separatist Kurdish militants, which Parliament is expected to vote on Wednesday.
“Not a war motion but a peace project should have been the Parliament’s most urgent task,” Demirtaş said, adding that his party was returning to help create “a civilian constitution for a Turkey in which everybody will feel themselves as equal citizens.”
He said however that “all oppressed must raise their voice in the streets” and vowed that the BDP would “keep up a policy of resistance on every platform without surrendering everything to parliamentarianism.”
CHP chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, for his part, voiced disappointment that President Gül failed to mention in his speech the eight lawmakers who remain in jail. “Barring several paragraphs, the speech was like a government program,” he said.
Among the lawmakers sworn in Saturday was iconic Kurdish activist Leyla Zana, who returned to parliament 20 years after her first appearance caused uproar when she spoke in Kurdish. Zana eventually spent a decade behind bars for collaboration with Kurdish militants.