Turkey’s Kurtulmus Sets July Deadline for New Constitution

The deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, said July 1 is its deadline for reaching consensus on a new constitution.

“The AKP will do what it can on the new constitution until July 1, and after that will evaluate other alternatives that arise in the period ahead,” Numan Kurtulmus, who is also the party’s head of economic policy, said in an interview in Ankara yesterday. “The majority of the people have expressed their unhappiness with the current constitution.”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who’s led the country since 2003, needs at least 367 votes in the 550-seat parliament to directly replace the constitution, a legacy of a 1980 military coup. President Abdullah Gul said this week that he regretted “failure” to reach consensus on a draft for a new charter, according to a report in Hurriyet Daily News on May 8.

Erdogan’s party is also three short of the 330 votes required to hold a referendum on the draft, meaning it needs support of members of the opposition or independent Kurdish lawmakers. The government is negotiating with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, to end a 29-year war that’s left tens of thousands dead and the largely Kurdish southeast of the country trailing the west in economic development.

Kurtulmus said the government isn’t considering general immunity for the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union. The group began its withdrawal from Turkey on May 8, Kurdish lawmaker Gultan Kisanak said that day. She called on the government to “seize the opportunity to carry out reforms for lasting peace.”

Weapons Buried

Any new constitution would have to “erase an approach that alienates people” in the Kurdish region, Kurtulmus said, and the ruling party expects armed struggle to end. “For us it’s fundamental that weapons be buried as the PKK withdraws, and that they never be brought out again.”

Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party submitted its own proposal to replace Turkey’s constitution to parliament on April 5. The proposal eliminates reference to the ethnic Turkish identity as well as reference to the Turkish national anthem and flag. It also allows use of Kurdish as a second language and recognizes the multi-ethnic structure of society.

“It’s clear that a new constitution is needed,” Kurtulmus said. “After the solution process is completed, the region will have a big economic leap, and this is also positive for the performance of the country as a whole.”

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