Using more unified language than has been common of late, Prime Minister Davutoglu told the newly elected national assembly that “This parliament is the parliament of all 78 million. No doubt, the sixth AK Parti government is the government of all of our citizens, no matter whether they voted for our party or not”.
Primed from their recent electoral victory and return to single-party rule, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has pledged to launched new “democratic reforms” in the revised constitution, further claiming that this will be an inclusive and collaborative process in an apparent effort to ease building polarization across the nation.Harking back to the optimistic days of the AKPs first term, the core slogans of the AKPs constitutional reform campaigning appear to be “democratization”, “human dignity” and “expanding freedoms”.
A Presidential Push
The AKPs re-drafting of the constitution however has been surrounded by controversy due to their proposed changes to the country’s administrative system, which would see Turkey become an executive presidency, empowering and perpetuating current president Erdogan’s now 13 year-long rule, which some claim is rapidly descending towards authoritarianism.
Thus, despite largely leaving out discussions regarding an executive presidency in the run-up to the November elections, emboldened by their success, the AKP have quickly revived this agenda. Erdogan has claimed that such as system is more suitable in developed nations, earlier comparing prospective reforms to that of the United States.This proposed change has been hotly contested by opposition parties, in particularly the People’s Democracy Party (HDP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP).
The HDP made opposition to this constitutional change a central element of their election campaign preceding the June and November elections, repeatedly asserting that “We will not allow you to be president”. The EU has also indicated they are concerned that an executive presidency could lead to excessive powers held by Erdogan.
In an apparent effort to dissuade fears of growing authoritarianism and include oppositional voices, at least discursively, Davutoglu went on to say that “In this new term too, we will attach importance to working together, searching for consensus and cooperation in our parliament. We will be in close dialogue and cooperation with all political parties. Our government considers the normalization of our country and politics to be a vital matter”.
Despite such reconciliatory language, many have accused the AKP of deliberately cultivating polarization and sectarianism in the lead-up to the November snap-elections in order to win back crucial nationalist and religious-Kurdish votes they lost during the June election.
Reform and Resolution
Davutoglu has added that this new constitution represents “A much more reformist and competitive social order, where freedoms will be expanded further and where everybody will be able to live their differences in unity, will be settled”.
However he further stated in regards to the ongoing escalating conflict in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish south-east, that “we [the AKP] will never give up reforms, services and investments and we will not step back”. As this conflict was initially reignited by widespread development projects in the south-east, particularly around PKK supply routes, it appears that differences are unlikely to be settled any time soon.
Davutoglu continually stressed that the AKPs activities in the south-east represent their efforts to protect and secure the fundamental rights of citizens. Such sentiments are retrospective of their first term in power and even if purely discursive, seemingly represent a renewed wish to present the AKP within the framework of liberal-democracy and support Turkey’s ongoing negotiations for EU accession.
In another important semiotic change, Davutoglu has stressed that the new constitution will protect citizens from discrimination or hate-speech based on their “faith, colour, gender, language race, political view, philosophical understanding, or lifestyle.”
The inclusion of “lifestyle” here is an important one relating to the previously unrecognized rights of LGBTQ individuals in Turkey. However, lack of clarity regarding the actual meaning of this term suggests that the battle to enshrine sexual freedom into the constitution is far from won and many LGBTQ people will likely continue to face hardships such as unemployment and homelessness due to their sexuality.
As well as “expanding freedoms”, the AKP will apparently tackle reform in areas such as education, the economy, democratization and importantly, the judiciary, which has been subject to growing controversy as the battlefield between AKP and pro-Gülen factions.
The AKP is also set to discuss individual access to the Constitutional Court, a reform brought about in accordance with Turkey’s EU accession bid. The dissolution of this right may be seen as yet another attack on the independence of the judiciary.
The AKP has faced severe and largely valid criticism over the past year in regards to the rapid erosion of civil rights, press freedom and freedom of speech and is facing ever-growing domestic opposition. The EU and the US have voiced their concerns regarding the current fraught political situation, making frequent calls for Turkey to lift ongoing restrictions on media freedom and to respect human rights. These are particularly salient requests given that the situation in the south-east continues to deteriorate and many areas under curfew are subject to a complete media black-out.
Under such external pressure, alongside compelling economic concerns which require nationwide stabilization and economic reform in order to increase investor confidence however, the AKP may be forced to heed their own words.