Türkiye’s six opposition parties that formed an alliance against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling “People’s Alliance” announced their draft constitutional amendment proposal that they promised to bring to parliament in the event that they came to power.
While the members of the commission that drafted the 84-article constitutional amendment proposal were reading out the headlines of their proposal in Ankara’s Bilkent Hotel, I was in the crowd watching the leaders of the six parties, called the “Table of the Six.”
Meral Akşener, leader of the İYİ Party, was having a private conversation with Future Party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu, while CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu was looking pensive. Even though his air lightened up in time, it was visible that he was carrying the burden of the problems of Türkiye opposition on his sholder.
The burden is that Türkiye is approaching one of the most critical elections of its time in 2023 and opposition parties’ unprecedented alliance takes up the challenge to race against Erdoğan while dealing with inner political struggles and rumors of crack.
Is the opposition slow-pacing?
The constitutional bill that is the result of the nine-month effort received positive reactions amid ongoing criticism of the opposition alliance for showing slow progress. The committee that worked on the draught was formed after the table of six announced their “Strengthened Parliamentary System Agreement” in February, and has been working ever since. Apart from the criticisms, the fact that representatives from six different political parties were able to agree on a draught of the constitution in such a short amount of time is impressive.
Kılıçdaroğlu is behind this achievement, as he had offered Akşener help in 2018 for her newly established İYİ Party to be able to enter the elections. The move has resulted in the opposition’s “Nation Alliance,” which would not be possible unless the CHP leader defied his party’s status quo.
However, he and Akşener are carrying a much bigger responsibility, and they are taking a great risk. As they postpone the nomination of the presidential candidate who would race against Erdoğan it builds up the energy in the opposition alliance and leads to heated debates within. The responsibility to nominate a candidate and that candidate’s achievement or failure in the election will primarily fall on two leaders’ shoulders.
The constitutional proposal is based on three elements
The announcement of the amendment proposal came at a time when the opposition was in disarray, with members of the alliance debating, causing rumours of cracks in the opposition. However, for the first time since the table was established, people saw a joint proposal that tells what the opposition will do when they come to power.
In fact, an important part of the amendment was the replacement of the word “duties” in the titles of the Constitution with the word “liberty.” The essential approach of the draught is the focus on “people and human dignity.” As if the fundamental role of the state is defined as providing a service to the citizen, rather than the citizen carrying the duties and responsibilities that come with being a citizen of the state.
The opposition’s proposal rests on three elements: executive, legislative, and judicial.
Return to Prime Ministry
With the constitutional change taken into effect in 2018, all executive powers were concentrated in the hands of the president as the prime ministerial post was lifted. That granted the presidency, as an executive branch, power over the judiciary and legislature.
The opposition’s proposal opens with a title called “the sole authorities of the President,” which says a lot. The executive powers will be with the Cabinet of Ministers, as it was before, which will be under judicial provision. The presidency will not be a purely symbolic position; the elected president will continue to be the head of state and commander-in-chief, will have the veto power, and will appoint the prime minister. The president will be elected for seven years, only once and cannot return to active politics after their term ends.
An important detail is that the proposal stipulates that the power over any withdrawal from international agreements will be with the parliament, which is already an institution that accepts them. This sentence is considered a salute to the Istanbul Convention, from which Türkiye was withdrawn by a single signature of the President with a decree in 2021.
It is simple to enter and difficult to leave parliament
The electoral threshold is lowered to 3 percent from 7 percent. The limit for receiving state aid from the Treasury has also been reduced to 1 percent. A simple majority will be required to form a government, whereas an absolute majority, one more than the total number of members, is required to overthrow the government. The current government cannot be annulled without the guarantee that a new one will be established in order to avoid a government crisis. The day the government falls will be the day that the new prime minister will be in office. They call it the “constructive distrust” principle.
Another innovation, according to the table’s proposal, is the overseas constituency. Representation of Turkish citizens living abroad, not exceeding 15 out of the 600 members of the parliament, is also envisaged.
The closure of parties is getting harder. It will not be possible for the Supreme Court’s Chief Public Prosecutor to file a party closure case whenever they see fit. They will be required to seek permission from the parliament and provide concrete evidence for this.
To strengthen the judiciary
The opposition’s constitutional amendment proposal also includes a number of articles on the independence of the judiciary. Among them is the fact that high court decisions can be challenged in court. The Supreme Election Board’s decisions, particularly during election periods, will be open to scrutiny by the Constitutional Court; previously, the top board’s decisions were final.
The Constitutional Court’s configuration will also be increased from 17 to 22. The number of members to be appointed by the president will be limited to two, who will be selected from among experts such as the rapporteur. The weight will be in Parliament.
Parliamentary supervision over the Court of Accounts is being increased in order to better control expenditures on behalf of the public and fight corruption.
Another innovation in the judiciary is the inclusion of the principle of equality of prosecution and defence authorities, namely prosecutor and lawyer, in the constitutional proposal, which has long been demanded by the Union of Turkish Bar Associations.
There are clear sentences in the text that impose duties on the state, such as “everyone has the right to health.” Likewise, “everyone has the right to live in a healthy environment.” There are also sentences that make the state responsible for protecting natural life and preventing cruelty and ill-treatment of animals. These are new.
Constitutional amendment without the presidency’s seat
You may say that all these are democratic moves that can only come to fruition if the six-party opposition’s presidential candidate wins the election.
Let’s talk frankly. Even though the opposition’s future candidate wins the presidency, in today’s political balance, it is difficult for the table to have the majority in the parliament that would have the force to bring the constitutional amendment. Therefore, the draught Constitution is perceived as a kind of government program, a transitional roadmap, and a stronger commitment than the February statement, which was a declaration of intention that the six parties are willing to restate a parliamentary regime.
All this can only happen with a candidate who can stand up to President Tayyip Erdogan and defeat him in elections. Meanwhile, Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been showing progress in recent polls even though the country is struggling with severe economic turmoil, where high inflation and deteriorating living standards have been reflected in public dismay.
Here, one important point is that, even with AKP’s demonstrated progress, the race is still head-to-head, and there is no one nominated against Erdoğan. The fact that the opposition has not yet declared a joint candidate also delays Erdoğan and the AKP from producing counter-tactics. The question is: will the announcement help the AKP or the opposition?
Losing the window of opportunity
The opposition members, however, are acting frivolously, thinking that an economic crisis will be enough to make Erdoğan lose. We wrote before that this is not the right approach; the opposition needs to present a story, a future projection, to win.
Can the candidate of the “Table of Six” give the public hope that he can win the election and fix the situation? But more importantly, will Kılıçdaroğlu and Akşener be able to avert “a proxy war” within the opposition table, where the discussion on a possible candidate is causing visible “crack”?
If it goes on like this, Kılıçdaroğlu and Akşener will close the window of opportunity in front of them with their own hands.
On the other hand, for the first time in Turkey, a group of opposition parties comes together and presents a vision of another Türkiye and draughts it in a constitutional form as its official proposal.
Even if nothing happens, something is going on.