An ambitious initiative to rewrite Turkey’s constitution took off in earnest Monday as Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek asked the four parties in Parliament to assign three representatives each for a commission to start work “as soon as possible” on drafting the reforms.
“I don’t want to protract things. I’d like the commission to get down to work as soon as possible,” Çiçek told reporters, stressing he was ready to convene the panel as soon as the members were named.
In a letter to the parties, Çiçek requested that they assign their representatives by Oct. 10. He described the would-be panel as a “preparatory commission” to be set up “with the aim of meeting public expectation and preparing the new constitution with maximum inclusiveness.”
Çiçek emphasized that the panel was a preparatory commission and not a conciliation commission, as it had been widely referred to so far, because its duty would be to prepare the new charter.
The name, however, sparked suspicion among some opposition lawmakers. Muharrem İnce from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, spoke of “slyness” and suggested the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, might attempt to water down the commission process. Asked whether the commission would have a predetermined timetable, Çiçek stressed that it would be up to the body itself to decide how much time it would need.
“Let’s not rush things, but let’s not protract them either… Any statement about a timetable at the moment should be considered as wishful thinking,” he said.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last week that the process should be completed within the first half of 2012, fanning opposition concerns that the AKP might attempt to hijack the process.
Çiçek said he had decided to increase the number of seats for each party from two to three because “making a new constitution is not like repairing a building but erecting a brand new one.” He raised the possibility that the process might require an additional commission to which some of the original members could move.
Asked whether Turkey could draw on the constitution-making experience of other countries such as South Africa, Çiçek said: “Ours is the best model.”
Earlier Monday, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin cautioned parties against premature bickering that could forestall the current spirit of cooperation in response to a question on whether the AKP envisaged a one-year deadline to make the new constitution. “I advise everybody to refrain from daily exchanges and statements that my harm the process,” Ergin said,.
In a related development, parliamentary officials have eased restrictions on the broadcasts of Meclis TV (Parliament TV) following opposition criticism. The channel will now air live the weekly speeches of party leaders at their parliamentary group meetings on Tuesdays. Live broadcasts from the General Assembly remain limited to four hours.