2012-12-31

Turkey faces a full agenda in 2013

The constitution and the Kurdish issue are likely to dominate political debates.

By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 31/12/12

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Politicians and analysts expect the Kurdish issue and parliament's work on a new constitution to take centre stage in Turkish politics in 2013, following a year that lacked major breakthroughs on either count.

  • Parliament is likely to have a full workload in 2013. [AFP]

    Parliament is likely to have a full workload in 2013. [AFP]

  •   Politicians and analysts expect the government to work toward resolving the Kurdish issue in 2013. [AFP]

    Politicians and analysts expect the government to work toward resolving the Kurdish issue in 2013. [AFP]

Ekrem Eddy Guzeldere, an analyst at the Istanbul-Based European Stability Initiative, told SES Türkiye that 2012 was a disappointing year for domestic and foreign policy. "The expectations for 2013 are not really high, so there is, in theory, much space for positive surprises," he said.

Although Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan once said a draft of a new constitution would be ready by the end of 2012, the parliamentary committee stalled, reaching consensus on only 21 of the 59 articles it has debated. Work on the remaining sections halted by year's end.

AKP Ankara deputy Burhan Kayaturk told SES Türkiye progress on the constitution would be the government's top priority in 2013.

"We want to write the new constitution in a sincere way. 2013 is going to be a very rich year," he said.

The AKP will need support from other parties to adopt a draft, as it doesn't have enough seats in parliament to do so on its own. But opposition deputies expressed concern that the ruling party will use the new law to enshrine a presidential system based on a strengthened executive. Erdogan has shown interest in running for president in Turkey's first direct election to the post in 2014.

MHP Deputy Chairman Oktay Vural told SES Türkiye the opposition will work for a new constitution in good faith, but that they're against any changes serving "one man, one party."

"Our expectations from 2013 are more transparent political atmosphere, especially in the constitutional reconciliation process," Vural said.

CHP vice chairman and Adana deputy Faruk Logoglu agreed that 2013 will be essential for debate on the constitution, adding that his party expects the draft to protect fundamental rights.

"Turkish people want to have a constitution that meets their needs in the 21st century, underlines rights and democratic freedoms that protect citizens from the state, not the state from the people," he told SES Türkiye.

AKP officials have said that the constitution will uphold human rights and democracy.

Progress on the constitution could also help facilitate a solution to the Kurdish issue, after the summer of 2012 saw the worst armed conflict in Turkey since the 1990s, according to the International Crisis Group. Talks between the government and the PKK appear deadlocked, but senior government officials in the fall hinted negotiations could resume.

Kayaturk said the AKP government aims to resolve the Kurdish problem "in a way that everyone is satisfied: Kurds, Turks and so on."

The matter has taken on a new dimension as Kurds in Syria have carved out a measure of autonomy in the country's north as the conflict there has dragged on.

Vural said regional developments added fresh urgency to the Kurdish issue in Turkey.

"Most probably, the events in Syria will end up with some demands of unity among Kurdish people in Turkey," he told SES Türkiye. "It seems that the political solution on Kurdish issue will determine the political environment in Turkey next year."

But Halil Karaveli, senior fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Programme, warned that domestic political calculations could trump the need for a solution.

"I have no expectation that Erdogan will do anything to accommodate the demands of the Kurds. On the contrary, I expect that the prime minister is going to continue to pander to right wing Turkish nationalism, as this is how he hopes to consolidate a majority support that will carry him to the presidency in 2014," he told SES Türkiye.

Hasip Kaplan, co-chair of the BDP's parliamentary group, accused the government of taking "zero steps" on the Kurdish issue, adding that domestic and regional conditions underscored the need for progress.

"It's time for Turkey to decide whether it wants to fights with Kurds in the Middle East, or be a strategic friend," he told SES Türkiye. "We're heading towards the elections seasons in the country."

Kaplan proposed a series of steps for the government to take: "First, addressing the Kurdish problem and preventing [rights] violations; second, completing the stalled Southeastern Anatolia Project and bring development to the region; and third, implementing the EU's Copenhagen Criteria in the country, such as freedoms and human rights."

Meanwhile, Logoglu said the CHP will continue to raise suggestions regarding the Kurdish issue it offered the government last July.

The 10-point plan outlined steps to create an environment of dialogue within the highly polarised parliament by establishing a multi-party "Social Consensus Commission." In parallel, a "Wise Men" group would be established outside of parliament.

"The AKP government's Kurdish policy is broken -- it has increased terror on one side, while the polarization among the people has also increased on the other side," Logoglu said. "It's time to solve this problem."

In response to the criticism, Kayaturk maintained that the ruling party is working to resolve unsettled issues.

"Our country faces long-standing chronic problems: the Kurdish issue, constitutional reconciliation process, transitions in the neighbourhood. These are not the topics that can be solved within a year," he said. "The AKP keeps and will keep its sincerity in all of these [issues]."

On regional diplomacy, Kayaturk said the government will continue its "zero problems with neighbours" policy, "even though the Arab Spring has changed the reality."

He added: "Turkey's position is clear: We're on the side of freedom, democracy and people's will. Even when Turkey was close to those [authoritarian] leaders, it has always called for the transition to democracy."

Turkey's ability to address big issues in the new year could be undermined by Erdogan's push for a presidential system and perceived efforts to consolidate his power base, according to some analysts. If events follow the script, Erdogan will be elected in 2014 and for a second term in 2019, allowing him to serve as president until 2023, when the Turkish republic celebrates its centennial.

But President Abdullah Gul has refused to rule out the possibility of running for president himself. Meanwhile, the AKP's internal rules dictate that their deputies are not allowed to serve elected office in more than three consecutive terms, meaning Erdogan cannot return as prime minister.

Few analysts expect that Gul and Erdogan will go head-to-head in a vote, but tension has periodically surfaced between the leaders, with Gul subtly criticising the presidential system and the government's perceived lack of focus on EU accession.

According to Karaveli, the big question of 2013 is whether Erdogan will succeed in his ambitions or encounter opposition from within his own base.

"It can be assumed that President Gul is going to continue to oppose Erdogan, and so will the fraternity of Fethullah Gulen," he said. "There is a thus lot of tension building up, and Erdogan may have become too power greedy for his own good."

Added Karaveli: "Erdogan has made it clear that he wants to wield unchecked power [as president in a new presidential system], and he has demonstrated a determination to impose a religious conservative blueprint on society."

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