Can we expect a new constitution in Turkey?

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is currently testing out whether he still has the ability to sway the domestic political agenda. The most ambitious idea he has articulated these past few days is that of a ‘new constitution.’ In order to sell the idea sugar coating is essential. Fortunately for him, there are two ideological ‘miracle workers’ that have always worked: conservatism and nationalism. So, why not use them now?

As President Erdoğan tests his ability to sway the domestic political agenda and seeks to tighten the reins of his power, a new ambitious idea has been articulated: a new constitution. But selling this constitutional project that only benefits his side will not be so easy. So, sugar coating is essential. But there are two ideological ‘miracle workers’ that have always worked: conservatism and nationalism.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is currently testing out whether he still has the ability to sway the domestic political agenda.

Domestically, he is propagating the launch of new ‘investment projects,’ and internationally, he seems to be presenting a much more peaceful face toward ‘ex-allies,’ mostly the European Union, but also the U.S. He even declared that Ankara would agree to limited use of Russian S-400’s; a peace offering for the Biden administration.

Erdoğan and his close circle are also trying to boost the morale of their base behind the scenes: The talk of the town in Ankara and beyond among their Justice and Development Party (AKP) circles is that Turkey’s own COVID-19 vaccine is almost ready for rollout.

More overtly, Erdoğan switched on the ‘sky is the limit’ mode, proudly flaunting grandiose statements of sending “the first Turk” to the moon. While Erdoğan’s ‘space ambition’ has triggered a flurry of jokes and sarcastic statement among social media circles rather than inspiration, it is certainly an indication that he intends to tighten the reins of command.

As far as this tightening of reins is concerned, the most ambitious idea he has articulated these past few days is that of a ‘new constitution.’

At the beginning of February, Erdoğan declared that he may consider launching a ‘new constitution’ project. On Feb. 10, he reiterated these constitutional desires. He also extended a call to all parties to unite in working towards rewriting Turkey’s charter. He certainly needs the support of at least a section of the opposition to bring such lofty goals to fruition. Currently, only 584 of the 600 seats of the Grand National Assembly are occupied because some of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) parliamentarians have been stripped of their immunity and imprisoned. The AKP and its coalition ally the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) have 337 seats in total, and 360 seats are required to trigger a constitutional referendum. To legislate a new constitution without a referendum, the approval of 400 parliamentarians is needed.

If Erdoğan succeeds in forcing through this constitutional project as a means of political gerrymandering, he will likely cement his grip on power via a mandate extension; or perhaps get rid of much of the ‘electoral fuss.’

But selling such a constitutional project that only benefits his side is not possible as is. So, sugar coating is essential. Fortunately for him, there are two ideological ‘miracle workers’ that have always worked: conservatism and nationalism. So, why not use them now?

Just as in Poland, the AKP government started using the LGBTI+ community as a scapegoat exponentially since last summer. First, the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (better known as the Istanbul Convention), was targeted as a source controversy. The AKP advocated for withdrawing from the Convention on that grounds that it denigrates “family values” by fostering LGBTI+ rights. As a reminder, Turkey hosted the international summit where the Istanbul Convention was heralded (hence the name) and was its first signatory in 2011. Poland was quick to follow Turkey’s lead in trying to rid itself of the Istanbul Convention, but in both countries the idea was shelved as it triggered grassroots reactions, largely from women.

Now, LGBTI+ scapegoating has made a comeback in Turkey with the recent Boğaziçi University protests. The community is being labeled as ‘terrorist groups.’

Will Turkey go as far as Poland in declaring ‘LGBT-free zones’? This question is up in the air, but it is highly likely that the AKP might opt to refurbish the ‘new constitution’ through the lens of ‘protecting family and religious values,’ as well as championing Turkish nationalism. Hungary did this successfully back in 2010. Its sparkly new conservative constitution went into effect at the beginning of 2011.

The main opposition parties of Turkey, the Nationalist Republican Party (CHP) and Good Party (İYİ Party) have shied away from contradicting the AKP/Erdoğan’s policies and rhetoric cherishing a nationalist and conservative agenda.

Can Turkey’s opposition front contest a ‘family and religious values’-based constitution? It will be difficult. Especially if it advocates for a nativist legal framework; Meaning a “Turkish understanding of laws and the legal system?”

Erdoğan’s top legal advisor Mehmet Uçum has already started advocating for the idea that Turkey’s legal sovereignty cannot be delegated; insinuating that the European Court of Justice (ECHR) decisions should not be binding. His ideas resonate closely with those advocated for by the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS). Hungary’s Fidesz Party also abides by a similar playbook of nativist ideas.

The European Union may soon see those ‘Hungary and Poland troubles’ it has become so familiar with reemerge and reframed as Turkey-related ones.

December 18, 2020 Turkey's divorce with the West