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Turkey’s Failing Constitutional Convention

Since winning election in 2002, one of the AK Party’s long-standing goals has been to replace the current constitution, which was put in place after a military junta in the early 1980s. The new constitution is supposed to ensure stronger individual rights for all citizens, including freedom of religion and a right to education in the mother tongue. But the constitutional project has been faltering recently, as the bloody conflicts against Kurdish separatists and the Syrian war next door have seized the governments’ attention. Today’s Zaman:

The Constitutional Reconciliation Commission has only written 40 articles for the country’s new basic law — which is expected to contain around 130 articles — under the heading of “Fundamental Rights and Freedoms” and is expected to continue working on the next section, “Main State Bodies,” but it now has less than three months before the end of the year when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had said a draft would be complete

Not surprisingly, the commission has yet to resolve the most contentious issues. Now, Prime Minister Erdoğan is threatening to bypass the constitutional commission altogether if it doesn’t produce results by the end of the year, according to the Wall Street Journal:

“If this job is done by year-end, it’s done. If not, [opposition parties] shouldn’t bother us any longer, we’ll continue along in our path,” Mr. Erdoğan said.

But this might be an empty threat: Prime Minister Erdoğan may not have enough support to force through a new constitution. Recently elected to his third and final four-year term, Erdoğan wants the new constitution to allow him to stay in power, which makes opposition parties skeptical.

Turkey is often seen as a best-case scenario for the Middle East: a model of tolerant democracy. But with its constitutional reforms faltering, a heavy-handed prime minister personally intervening to stay in power à la Putin, hundreds of officers thrown in jail, and an increasingly bloody war against the minority Kurds, this best-case scenario increasingly seems like setting the bar relatively low.

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