On Sunday, June 12, 2011, Turkish voters headed to the ballot boxes to cast their votes in parliamentary elections. According to preliminary results, the incumbent Islamist-leaning Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP) (Justice and Development Party) comfortably won a third consecutive term in office, obtaining 49.9% of the popular vote and 326 of the 550 seats in the Parliament.
AKP’s electoral victory was widely expected. But the question remained whether AKP would obtain the requisite supermajority in the Parliament to unilaterally draft and ratify a new Constitution. During the campaign, AKP steadfastly committed itself to drawing up a new Constitution to replace Turkey’s 1982 Constitution, which was drafted following a military coup. Many secularists in Turkey shared AKP’s commitment to scrap the 1982 Constitution, which is viewed among many as a blemish on Turkey’s democracy, and draft a new, more democratic Constitution. But the secularists feared that AKP might use this opportunity to alter, among other things, the theoretically non-amendable constitutional provisions that protect the nation’s secular regime and replace Turkey’s parliamentary system with a presidential one, for which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had publicly voiced his support.
The Turkish Constitution may be amended in one of two ways. If the new Constitution obtains approval by a two-thirds majority in the Parliament (367 seats), the Constitution may be ratified without the need for a popular referendum. If the Constitution is not approved by a two-thirds majority, it could still be submitted for ratification by a popular referendum if approved by a three-fifths majority (330 seats).
The preliminary tally of 326 seats falls short of the supermajority that AKP needed to unilaterally ratify the new Constitution in the Parliament. AKP will thus need the cooperation of opposition parties to rewrite the Constitution. This need for collaboration was apparent in Prime Minister Erdogan’s post-election victory speech. During the campaign, Mr. Erdogan had stated that he “will not waste time” by consulting with opposition parties in drafting the new Constitution. In his victory speech, he significantly dialed down his pre-election rhetoric and adopted a more conciliatory tone. In devising the new Constitution, Mr. Erdogan proclaimed, he would “embrace” the opposition parties and consult with all facets of society, including political parties, civil society organizations, and academics. He promised a Constitution that would appeal to all 74 million Turkish citizens.
Stay tuned for new developments in the upcoming months as Turkey begins the process of drafting its new Constitution.
— Ozan Varol, Chicago-Kent College of Law