Police played hard on Bogaziçi University students on Feb. 1 who were peacefully protesting the appointment of Melih Bulut as that rector, and raided the campus in the evening, contradicting with the new charter pledges in Ankara on the same day. According to the Istanbul Governor’s Office, police detained 159 protesters, 51 of them being students. While Bulu, who regarded himself as the “shadow of the state,” posed for the cameras with his new advisor, the police were once again at the campus, dispersing students. Meanwhile, President Tayyip Erdoğan said in Ankara he would soon send a reform package to parliament for approval. “Maybe,” he said, it was time for Turkey to discuss a new constitution.
Is it a distraction or is it real?
Didn’t we already discuss the Constitution in the shadow of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt? Didn’t Erdoğan amend the Constitution, with the support of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, on April 16, 2017, an alliance that enabled the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to reach the required 50 percent? Didn’t Turkey shift to a presidential system already? Didn’t we delegate all powers to Erdoğan through the People’s Alliance at the June 24, 2018 election?
In the last two years, don’t most opposition parties from Republican People’s Party (CHP) to Good (İYİ) Party, from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to Deva Party, from Felicity Party (Saadet) to Future Party oppose the gathering of power in the hands of one person for social reconciliation?
Well, wasn’t Erdoğan and Bahçeli strongly opposing such calls for change until yesterday? What has changed, and Erdoğan started talking about the constitutional amendment like the opposition?
Or was Erdoğan sending Bahçeli the message: “Don’t object to everything,” while winking at the opposition, for example, İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener. Or is the Constitutional amendment a tactic for distracting the people who are already struggling with unemployment, high living cost and the pandemic, with debates on the return of students to school continuing?
Is power too little or too much for Erdoğan?
However, Erdoğan’s amendment depends on the condition that “we reach an understanding on this issue with our partner in the People’s Alliance.”
His election partner, MHP leader Bahçeli, joined the debate on Feb. 2, saying that “It is obvious that Turkey needs a new constitution.”
Therefore, either there will not be an amendment that Bahçeli, who has defended the current system ever stronger than Erdoğan, does not approve, or we are talking about a shift without Bahçeli, or there will no amendment at all.
Is it too much or too little power and authority for Erdoğan? Or does Erdoğan intend to pull back the timing of his goals for 2023 (the 100th anniversary of the Republic) and 2024 (the 100th year of the Caliphate’s annulment) through a referendum and without taking risks due to concrete reasons such as pandemic, unemployment and high cost of living?
Still, there is a serious problem: How and with whom can he make constitutional amendments?
Number of seats in parliament and a pink scenario
Signatures of 200 deputies are required for a proposal to amend the constitution. The AKP has 289 deputies, so the proposal process would not be a problem.
However, when it comes to voting, 360 (three-fifths of the 600 seats) parliamentary votes are required to amend the Constitution through a referendum, and 400 (two-thirds) parliamentary votes to amend it with a parliamentary vote.
MHP holds 48 deputy seats. The People’s Alliance has a total of 337 seats, 338 if we include the small partner Grand Unity Party (BBP). In other words, in order to pass a Constitutional amendment proposal without a referendum from parliament, Erdoğan needs 62 more MPs in addition to those from the People’s Alliance. To take it to a referendum, it needs 22.
The pink scenario might be that Erdoğan returns some of his powers to the parliament and the judiciary in order to take part in the international post-coronavirus political and economic order.
In that case, the ideal scenario would be the AK Party-CHP cooperation, just like the one during the 2003-2004 period. Because even when the three deputies who recently resigned are excluded, the sum of AKP-CHP votes sum up to 424, when the remaining 135 CHP votes are added. If İYİ Party joins them with its 37 seats, this will mean approval by almost three-quarters of the lawmakers.
The dark scenario: If Erdoğan thinks his current powers are limited
However, if Erdoğan is thinking that his current presidential power is too little, and if he is actually after a lifetime government with the amendments like Vladimir Putin in Russia, Xi Jingpin in China, and the Saudi dynasty in Saudi Arabia, then the dark scenario comes into play.
Then the market would be open for a trade of parliamentarian seats, something that Turkey experienced in the 1970s and 1990s. We witnessed what some lawmakers can do for their interests during the so-called Feb. 28 “post-modern coup” in 1997. The dark scenario is one in which Erdoğan and the AKP would seek 20 to 25 deputies who would take side with the People’s Alliance and using all means for this purpose.
Would it? Can it?
Would it be right to do it? No, it would be wrong. It would accelerate the currently growing decay in the system.
Erdoğan would enjoy a Pyrrhic victory since those yes-men around him would disappear or even start stoning him before too long.
Yet, another thing: Erdoğan, on the one hand, gives the impression that he will undergo reforms in order to gain more space in the post-coronavirus world, on the other hand, he wants to keep society under lock and key to keep everything under his control.