Sugar coating

I think it’s safe to say there is going to be a referendum in Turkey at the end of June or the beginning of July. The referendum will be about the package of constitutional reforms that the AKP is about to send to parliament. The package will most likely not get the required two thirds majority, which automatically means the people can have their say. And polls say that the majority of Turks support the changes.

Opposition party CHP started the discussion on which articles exactly should be included in the referendum: the package as a whole, or only the articles that didn’t get the 2/3 majority? An interesting debate, because not all of the package is controversial.

The most controversial parts are changes to the judicial system, in particular the Supreme Board of Prosecutors and Judges (HSYK in Turkish). The AKP wants to increase the number of members and wants the President and the Parliament to appoint some of them – which is actually rather common in many European countries. The opposition says it’s a move that will give the AKP a firm grip on the judiciary, while the AKP says just the opposite, of course. (And I think: the AKP is in power now, but not forever, so if any party that is in opposition now wants to have a say in who is appointed to the HSYK, then they should try to get more support in society and sweep the AKP from power in the next elections.) Also controversial: changing the rules on party closures.

But then there are a handful of proposed changes that are not controversial and that will get support from maybe even the whole parliament. One of them is scrapping of the article in the (military) constitution that prevents the trying of the participants in the 1980 military coup. Others have to do with more equal rights for men and women, and improving the position of disabled citizens. The opposition calls these the ‘sugar coating’ of the constitutional reform package: practically everybody favours these things, and it distracts attention from the more controversial proposals.

They say if the constitutional changes are taken to referendum, then only the changes that did not get a two thirds majority should be submitted to the people. That would also be more in line with European rules, which the AKP says they want to adhere to. So if the AKP is indeed sincere about adjusting the constitution to meet European criteria, they should also follow European rules in getting their changes adopted.

So far, it doesn’t look like the AKP will only put those changes to referendum that didn’t get a two thirds majority. But, and now it gets even more interesting, in the end it’s up to President Gül, who is not a member of any party now as President, but who is of course originally from the AKP. It’s his task to officially put the matter to a referendum. The opposition says we are about to see the true colours of the President: if he is truly independent, then he will have to block the package going to referendum as a whole. In a recent meeting with the foreign press, Justice Minister Ergin seemed to have faith in the outcome of a referendum. I wonder: does he have faith too in the President to back the AKP up in their road map to the popular vote?

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