After President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan raised the idea of drafting a new constitution and Parliament Speaker Mustafa Şentop called for a complete overhaul of the Law on Political Parties, Turkey’s political debate changed focus as the opposition interpreted the development as stepping stones for a snap election, which they believe Erdoğan plans to call in June 2021, under a new electoral system.
To Erdoğan’s surprise call for a new constitution, the first voice of support came from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), with which his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been in an alliance, namely the Public Alliance, for years.
However, Erdoğan’s ruling AKP holds a total of 289 seats in parliament, which includes that of Speaker Şentop, who is not allowed to vote. Even with the support of the 48-seat MHP group and a single deputy from the Grand Unity Party (BBP), it does not have a sufficient majority to pass a new constitution or amend the current one, which requires the vote of at least 400 deputies. In order to submit constitutional amendments to a popular referendum, they need to be supported by at least 360.
According to these figures, the ruling AKP is not able to make any constitutional changes unless it obtains the support of another party from the opposition.
Can Erdoğan restore power through a referendum?
Some commentators claim that in order to regain his strength, Erdoğan might opt for a constitutional referendum instead of an election. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Ayhan Barut says Erdoğan is signaling a referendum in an attempt to divert public attention from real problems.
The İyi (Good) Party, which in the latest polls saw the most significant increase in public support, said Erdoğan’s latest remarks amount to an admission of bankruptcy. Uğur Poyraz, the party’s secretary-general, made a statement following a meeting of party executives on the subject.
“It is a step in the right direction that the Public Alliance has begun questioning the presidential system of governance, which has driven Turkey into a bottleneck,” Poyraz said, referring to a constitutional amendment that the AKP and the MHP spearheaded back in 2017, for the country to abandon its traditional parliamentary system in favor of a presidential one.
“We believe this undefinable system harms Turkey and that the solution lies in the adoption of an improved and strengthened parliamentary one, on which we will soon announce our detailed proposal,” he said.
Prior to Erdoğan’s suggestion, the CHP, DEVA, the İyi Party and the Felicity Party (SP) had launched a series of meetings to discuss a possible return to a parliamentary system.
Ali Babacan, the leader of DEVA, said, “It is thought-provoking that the president made a statement about the constitution right after we took steps towards a parliamentary system.” Babacan said Erdoğan does not believe in the separation of powers and that that is why his proposed constitutional reform will not mean anything.
Reforming the Law on Political Parties
Parliament Speaker Şentop called for a change in the Law on Political Parties. A similar suggestion was made last year by MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli. A change in the law also means a change in the 10 percent threshold required to enter parliament. Polls show the MHP has bled voters and fallen below the threshold.
However, Bahçeli also requests that the new law contain provisions that make it more difficult for newly established parties such as DEVA and the Future Party (GP), both of which were set up by former AKP heavyweights who parted ways with Erdoğan. Polls show that the two parties have garnered a combined support of more than 4 percent. These parties have thrown their support behind the Nation Alliance, an opposition bloc formed to challenge the Public Alliance.
Acceleration in meetings between parties
Over the past two months political parties have increased their contacts among each other, another indicator of a possible snap election. Erdoğan has directly contacted the SP as well as the conservative Kurdish HÜDAPAR and a small social democratic party. He has also confirmed that his meetings are aimed at forming new alliances.
Bahçeli previously called on the İyi Party, which was above 14 percent in the polls, to “come back home” as it was established by Meral Akşener, who parted ways with Bahçeli’s management. However, Bahçeli’s call was rejected.
The opposition has also intensified high-level meetings among each other. According to Akşener, all signals point to a possible snap election in June 2021.