Balances change with constitutional reform package

The DP’s problem isn’t just its inability to consolidate ANAVATAN and the DYP; it is also the inability of its younger members to advance in the party.

March 22, 2010, Monday/ 16:51:00
The long-expected constitutional amendment reform package has caused an unexpected change of balances in Ankara. It has led to satisfaction for the deputies of the ruling party but caused disappointment for opposition parties.

Justice and Development Party (AK Party) officials are especially pleased because debates on the possibility that the party may not reach the 330-deputy threshold required to take the constitutional amendments to a referendum because some AK Party deputies may vote against the package have ended. Intense meetings and negotiations over the package have led to a very interesting political situation. An AK Party legal expert made an interesting assessment, saying: “It was a troubling situation to only be close to the 330 threshold. It was especially upsetting that the concern expressed by the prime minister on this matter during the Central Executive Board [MYK] meeting was made public. But a lot of good came out of this situation, which first seemed to be harmful.” Another legal expert friend of mine, who several weeks ago said the reason why the package was withdrawn at the very last minute was because “the floor was very slippery and the balance was very precarious,” which meant they needed to “re-evaluate things,” said, “We worked on it some more, and now the floor which was slippery for us is slippery for all three opposition parties.” Both of these reliable sources were highlighting the unexpected item that was added to the package. The surprise move that jeopardized Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal’s position was allowing those involved in the Sept. 12, 1980 coup to be tried.

Center-right parties fuming with rage

The Democrat Party (DP), which is the product of a merger of the Motherland Party (ANAVATAN) and the True Path Party (DYP), continues to face obstacles. Comparing the merger of the two parties to trying to “mix oil and water” is becoming a valid comparison. Emphasizing that even though the two parties have united they won’t be able to integrate with each other, a political expert friend of mine said: “The merger of these two parties is like putting oil and water in the same container. Even if you bring them together, you can’t make them a whole. If you mix very well, it will look like they have mixed with each other, but the moment you stop mixing they will separate.” According to reports from the DP, leader Hüsamettin Cindoruk is not good at mixing. The DP’s problem isn’t just its inability to consolidate ANAVATAN and the DYP; it is also the inability of its younger members to advance in the party.

When asked if it was a disadvantage to have a chairman who was over 70 years old, Cindoruk had said, “I am here to pave the way for the younger people.” But the younger members are outraged that he is preparing for the party congress in May at which there will be no election to choose a new chairman. Reminded that he was supposed to “open the way for the younger people,” DP leader Cindoruk said: “I don’t see those young people. In the next non-election congress we will get rid of them.” The younger members reacted harshly at the party’s last General Executive Board (GİK) meeting as well. They asked Cindoruk, whom they accuse of aligning the party closer to CHP, whether he had plans to form an election alliance with Baykal. Infuriated by these questions, Cindoruk left the meeting. Things are not going well for the DP, which claims to be bringing the center right together.

The item on the provisional Article 15 of the Constitution was a shock, leading to the possibility of some dissent among members of the CHP, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The move put an end to debates about divergence in the AK Party while making the ground slipperier for the three opposition parties. The are speculations in the back corridors of Parliament that even if the party administrations give a firm “no” to the package, there will be some members of these parties who will say “yes.” People from all three parties have said the day the Sept. 12 coup is tried will be the most important and happiest day of their life. In addition to the dissidents, the content of the package is so diverse that it is unlikely that anyone who wants democratization will be able to say “no” to it easily. Affirmative action for women and children, unionization rights for civil servants, an ombudsman law and the protection of personal data are democratic rights that voters won’t be able to say no to.

It is for this reason that the minimum 330 votes required for constitutional amendments is no longer even an issue. Instead, the parties are now talking about the maximum limit of 367 votes. Appealing to President Abdullah Gül, CHP leader Baykal asked that items with more than 367 votes be removed from the package and be made law without voting on them in a referendum. In an assessment of this appeal, AK Party officials said, “Baykal, who wanted to turn the referendum into a campaign against the ruling party, has realized that not only his deputies, but also his constituents, will not support him in his opposition to democratization.”

While the MHP deputies I spoke to are waiting for the party headquarters’ official position to be made clear, they do accept -- off the record -- that the AK Party lawyers have made a very good move. The MHP, which is trying to the win support of younger people, is concerned about losing some voters. The BDP has the same concern as well. The issue of trying those who staged the Sept. 12 coup, which Prime Minister Erdoğan considered a “joke” when Baykal first brought it up, has caused the balances in Ankara to change once again. It is normal for the ruling party to be put under pressure ahead of an election. But surprisingly, it is the opposition that is in a tight corner.

Leftist parties focused CHP general assembly to steal votes

After the death of the left’s legendary leader, Bülent Ecevit, his party, the Democratic Left Party (DSP), could not pull itself together, allowing the CHP to become the main representative of the spectrum on the left. But this did not last very long, as two major rivals have started emerging. One of the rivals is someone Baykal created himself. Former Social Democratic People’s Party (SHP) leader Murat Karayalçın was the CHP’s mayoral candidate for Ankara in the last local elections. But after he lost the elections he did not return to his party. Hüseyin Ergün, who was elected the chairman of the SHP, described the party as the place where the “contemporary left” would come together. Taking historic steps in leftist politics, Ergün sent out unusual messages, such as: “We are ready to make any kind of sacrifice to save the left from the CHP’s occupation. Leadership, an emblem and a name are not important. What’s important is that Turkey has a leftist party that meets universal standards.” Ergün, who has been involved in politics since the 1960s, was very selective when inviting leftist groups to join the “contemporary left.” It was the first time that the Turkish left, which is known for its fragmentation, came together under one roof. The SHP’s name was changed to the Equality and Democracy Party (EDP).

The CHP’s second rival is the Turkey Movement for Change (TDH). Şişli Mayor Mustafa Sarıgül, who competed against Baykal for leadership of the CHP, has found a significant number of supporters. Both the EDP and the TDH are focused on staging an assault in May, when the CHP will hold its party congress. The Turkish left will reshape itself after the congress, which will clearly be a stressful one.

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