Constitutional reform in Turkey: who’s voting what?

By Ozenc Eren*

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) joint bill to reform the Turkish constitution was approved in parliament after surpassing the necessary 330-vote threshold on 21 January. Constitutional reforms can be adopted by parliament if the constitutionally specified 367-vote threshold is surpassed. However, since this wasn’t the case, the constitutional reform package is expected to go to a referendum in early April.

The constitutional reform package encompasses a wide array of thorough modifications concerning diverse spheres from the legislature to the judiciary, and from the bureaucracy to foreign affairs, which will bring about profound systemic change. While the exact date for the referendum has not yet been set, the four political parties in parliament, as well as those outside, have begun to voice their opinions and positions.

The political climate in the country is tense in the lead up to the referendum. The state of emergency (OHAL) declared following July’s coup attempt has been extended three times by parliament. During the first six months of Turkey’s state of emergency 103,850 people were investigated with 41,326 being arrested; 135,356 civil servants have also come under administrative scrutiny with most of them being dismissed from their positions.

Furthermore, the government has dismissed the co-mayors of 57 Democratic Regions Party (DBP) administered municipalities and replaced them with appointed trustees. The co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag as well as 8 other MPs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), an influential opposition party and actor within the Kurdish political movement, are still behind bars. 155 media outlets have been shut down with statutory decree laws and more than 150 journalists detained on terrorism charges. Since the beginning of the state of the emergency, 224 persons have lost their lives in armed attacks or bombings. The fall of the Turkish Lira against the Euro and Dollar, and the withdrawal of foreign investment, has given substance to concerns of an impending economic crisis.

It is within this violent and chaotic atmosphere and under a state of emergency that Turkey is heading towards a referendum on constitutional reform. The political parties and their supporters’ views are as follows:

Justice and Development Party (AKP)

The AKP, the party founded by current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is at the core of the constitutional reform package. The AKP sees the executive presidency and constitutional reform as necessary to save Turkey from its current situation. This position was summed up in Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus’s recent speech: “God willing, once there is a significant ‘yes’ result in the referendum, the terrorist organisations will be completely silenced.” Even though alternative voices are not emerging from within the party, some former members have vented their doubts about the constitutional reform. One of the largest opinion and polling companies in the country, Gezici, revealed on 26 January that 20% of AKP voters are against the constitutional reform.

People’s Republican Party (CHP)

Although the social democratic CHP, the founding party of the republic, constitutes the main opposition and is one of the parties opposing the constitutional reform, it has been on the receiving end of criticism for not being an effective opposition. The party’s voter base is univocally saying ‘no’ to the constitutional reform while the party, lacking dissident voices, voted against the reform package in parliament and conduct a ‘no-campaign’.

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)

The HDP boycotted the parliament vote on constitutional reform. The party is part of the Kurdish political movement in Turkey but is an alliance formed of socialists, social democrats, feminists, LGBTQ activists, Alevis, Armenians and other minorities. The HDP got 13.1% of the votes in the 7 June 2015 general election to get into parliament and prevented the AKP from gaining a majority. Due to political reasons the co-leaders of the party, many of its MPs, members and activists -reportedly 6,000 members- are currently behind bars. Although the party has had difficulties in making its voice heard due to arrests and the closing down of opposition media outlets, it has decided to carry out a ‘no-campaign’ with the slogan “we will not allow for a dictatorship.” The party’s grassroots support is also against the constitutional reform package.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)

The MHP supported the AKP’s constitutional reform package in parliament and has declared it will run a campaign for a ‘yes’ vote. However, despite the party leader Devlet Bahceli’s support for the package and suppression of dissenting voices, several MPs and grassroots organisations including the paramilitary ‘Grey Wolves’ group, which has direct ties to the MHP, are continuing to voice their opposition to the package. This renegade circle within the MHP supports the view that Devlet Bahceli, who refused to be part of a coalition government following the 7 June 2015 general election, has betrayed ultra-nationalist ideals and wants to give Erdogan executive presidential powers in return for favours. Several party deputies, including prominent figures Meral Aksener and Umit Ozdag, have formed the committee ‘Turkish nationalists say no’ to run a counter-campaign. According to the same polling company’s survey, 70% of the MHP’s grassroots is predicted to vote against the constitutional reform, despite the party’s official support for it.

Felicity Party (SP)

The SP, which has decided on a ‘no’ vote, was the 5th largest party in the 2015 November general election, but couldn’t make it into parliament due to the 10% threshold. One of the linchpins of political Islam in Turkey, the party sees the now deceased Necmettin Erbakan as its spiritual leader and had in its ranks, pre-2000, all of the figures who founded the AKP, including Erdogan. The SP’s leader, Temel Karamollaoglu, has said that although they are not categorically against a presidential system, the reform package being proposed does away with checks and balances and therefore won’t be a solution to the issues Turkey faces. The SP will, despite limited means, go to the grassroots and inform the public about why they are against the constitutional reform, Karamollaoglu has said.

Grand Unity Party (BBP)

After the SP, the BBP was the 6th biggest party in the country’s last election. The conservative nationalist right wing BBP is still yet to determine its stance regarding the reform package. BBP leader Mustafa Destici stated they would make a decision following intra-party meetings but that regardless of the outcome voting in favour or against would be a democratic choice and shouldn’t lead to polarisation.

Patriotic Party (Vatan Partisi)

The Kemalist VP, influential in some military and bureaucratic circles has declared it is against the constitutional reform and will vote ‘no’.

The centre-right Fatherland Party (ANAP) and Democrat Party (DP) have both stated they are against the reform package. Marxist-Leninist, communist, socialist and left wing parties such as the Socialist Refoundation Party (SYKP), Socialist Workers’ Party, Labour Party, People’s Liberation Party, Turkish Communist Party and the Freedom and Solidarity Party are all in the ‘no’ camp. The Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP), an affiliate of the HDP, has also declared that it will work for a ‘no’ vote. The centre-left Democratic Left Party, which was part of a coalition government before the AKP’s rise to power in 2002, has also said it will vote ‘no’. Other smaller parties on different ends of the political spectrum, Rights and Justice Party (HAK-PAR), Grand Turkey Party (BTP), Liberal Democrat Party (LDP), Nation Party (MP), Green Left Party (YSG), Rights and Equality Party (HEPAR) and the Electronic Democracy Party (EDP) have all stated their intention to vote against the constitutional change.

In conclusion, apart from the two parties -AKP and MHP- who brought the constitutional reform package to parliament, there are no other parties that have declared support for the change. In contrast 21 parties have publically declared that they will vote ‘no’ in the upcoming referendum. All the surveys conducted in relation to the referendum so far show that there are marginal differences between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ vote, which strengthens the argument that undecided voters will determine the result of the referendum.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Komnews.