Turkish National Assembly passed the constitutional amendments package in the early hours of Friday with 336 votes after a three-week tumultuous marathon debate that witnessed deputies coming to fisticuffs with each other and sent it to President Abdullah Gul for ratification to be submitted to a national referendum later this year.
According to the Turkish Constitution, amendments to the basic law that is passed by the legislative assembly with a three fifths majority should be submitted to a plebiscite while two thirds majority is sufficient for such constitutional legislation to go into force automatically.
The constitutional amendments drafted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) did suffer a setback earlier in the week when some 8 to 10 defectors from the ruling party rejected Article 8 that was supposed to give the final say in party closure trials at the Constitutional Court to the Parliament. The article received only 227 votes, 3 short of the necessary 330 resulting in dropping the measure from the package.
AKP deputies who rejected Article 8 sent shock waves through the ranks of the ruling party but Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan seemingly controlling his usual wrath said, “The deputies used their right to express their free will.”
However, he blamed the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy (BDP) for not participating in the vote. The predecessor of BDP, Democratic Society Party (DTP) was shut down by the Constitutional Court last year on charges of violating the unity and integrity of the nation.
AKP deputies including the former Industry Minister Kursad Tuzmen attacked Faruk Koca, another AKP deputy close to Erdogan who was seen in the lobby drawing up a list of possible defectors.
CHP taking the package to the Constitutional Court
Immediately after the Parliament passed the amendments, the main opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP) began collecting the necessary 110 signatures from the deputies to take the bill to the Constitutional Court. CHP has only 97 seats in the assembly and it needs 13 more supporters in order to take the bill to the Constitutional Court. CHP spokesmen expressed confidence that they would find supporters among the independents and Democratic Left Party (DSP).
CHP leader Deniz Baykal said the amendments violate the principle of separation of powers in the Constitution. However, the Constitutional Court only has authority to rule whether the procedural rules have been observed and it cannot make a decision on the essence of legislation passed by the Parliament.
According to legislation, the referendum on the amendments will be held 60 days after the bill is published in the Official Gazette. But there is also the possibility that the Constitutional Court might rule a stay for the referendum until it reaches a decision. Whatever the developments will be, the national polling on the constitutional amendments at the earliest points to the month of July. Between now and then it seems that all the political parties will be engaging in a heated campaign.
Hitler, Churchill, Baykal, Erdogan
The three week marathon also witnessed scathing duel of words between Erdogan and Baykal, as well as between AKP and opposition deputies. A fiery argument broke out when Baykal said his party would wage war against the amendments as Winston Churchill said during World War II “by land, sea and air, with all our might and … damage to the German forces to cause Hitler to suspend ‘Operation Sealion,” Erdogan retorted by saying it was Ismet Inonu, CHP’s former leader and Turkey’s second president who looked like Hitler with his moustache and who gave himself the title of “National Chief” during the single party regime in the 19’/40s.
CHP spokesmen and many columnists criticized Erdogan for making such an analogy and found it unbecoming for a prime minister, pointing out that it was Inonu who introduced multi-party democracy in Turkey in 1950 when he admitted defeat at the elections and handed power to the Democratic Party.