Today's Zaman, Turkey
Dec 31 2007

New constitution to dominate 2008

Turkey is leaving behind a year full of tension, initiated by the
presidential election crisis, and the country is understandably eager
to make major changes in 2008, starting with a new constitution that
will replace the current one, which was drafted by a handful of
generals after a bloody coup d'état.

Law professionals from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party)
and constitutional law professors from various universities have
drafted a new text for the constitution. This draft text differs
fundamentally from Turkey's current constitution, a painful left over
from the 1980 coup. The government will open the draft to public
debate soon, but the process to enact it is likely to take the entire
year. There is not the slightest doubt that debate on the new
constitution will be the top political issue this year.

Some of the changes promised for the new constitution promises are
likely to give rise to clashes between the government and the
opposition. The AK Party, which has 340 deputies in Parliament, does
not have the strength to adopt a new constitution by itself. Some of
the articles of the new constitution are likely to be supported by
the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), while some are likely to have
the backing of the Republican People's Party (CHP) or the Democratic
Society Party (DTP). There are 170 articles in the draft, each of
which should be discussed and voted on in Parliament two times -- a
process likely to take anywhere between three and five months. This
is why the AK Party would like to finish its work on the constitution
within the first six months of the new year.

The AK Party hopes the new constitution will enable it to fulfill the
dream of selling Treasury land that has lost its "quality as a
forest." The government says the sale of such land could earn the
Treasury $20 billion. The introduction of a new ombudsman law, which
is of crucial importance in the EU harmonization process, also
depends on the adoption of the new constitution.

If discussions on the new constitution go nowhere, a new referendum
might be in store for 2008. The AK Party has expressed its
willingness to take the constitution to the people in the event that
opposition parties do not support the new constitution.

The government will also refocus on the EU-accession process, which
it had somewhat abandoned this year due to domestic political
developments. Before the constitutional change, changes to the
Turkish Trade Code will be brought to Parliament. When this law
passes, Turkey's 50-year-old trade code will be adapted to EU

Meanwhile, Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which
criminalizes "insulting Turkishness" and which has caused countless
writers to appear before courts although nobody has yet been
convicted will be changed. The EU has repeatedly for a change to
Article 301, which has become perhaps the most famous penal code
article in the world.

Many have blamed this article for the murder of ethnic Armenian
journalist Hrant Dink. Dink was tried under 301 before he was
assassinated by a teenager who said he had heard that Dink had
insulted "Turkishness."

However, parliamentary discussion on Article 301 is going to be no
less lengthy or troublesome than discussion about the Constitution.

Other key laws crucial to the EU harmonization process Parliament
must deal with this year include a 44-article law on the protection
of personal data that will be voted also in one of the next weeks.
The Foundations Law, which returns Turkey's religious minority
foundations goods unjustly confiscated from them decades ago, will
also be in Parliament shortly. This law is crucial for minority
rights in Turkey and the EU has been pressing for its adoption for a
long time. It was earlier approved by Parliament, but vetoed by
nationalist President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who preceded Abdullah Gül.

Changes in other panel laws, such as the Notary Law, Bankruptcy Law,
Legal Arbitration Law and changes to many parts of the penal code are
also to be taken up very in Parliament soon -- all as part of the EU
harmonization process.

The year of party congresses

Most of Turkey's political parties have congresses scheduled for
different dates in 2008. Some will be searching for new leaders, as
many suffered defeat in the July 22 election, in which the AK Party
received almost half of the total vote. The Democrat Party (DP) has
the earliest congress of the year, scheduled for Jan. 6. The only
candidate for party leadership is Süleyman Soylu, the head of the
party's Ýstanbul branch. This means that this will not be the last
congress of the year for the DP, whose leader, Mehmet Aðar, resigned
after his party's defeat on July 22. In fact, it is more likely to be
the first of many to come.

The CHP has scheduled its congress for March. Þiþli Mayor Mustafa
Sarýgül, who challenged the current leadership, is now out of the
picture, as he was expelled from the party. But Samsun deputy Haluk
Koç, Deputy Chairman Eþref Erdem, Gülsüm Bilgehan Tokar -- the
granddaughter of Turkey's second president, Ýsmet Ýnönü -- and Ýzmir
deputy Oðuz Oyan have taken out their swords to challenge the party

Although the CHP has more seats in Parliament than any other
opposition party, the role of the main opposition party has been
played by the MHP for a long time, since the CHP has been struggling
with inner-party conflict.

MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli was criticized by some in his party for
supporting Abdullah Gül's presidency. It is likely that contenders
might challenge him in a congress this year, although the party does
not have a scheduled congress for 2008 as of yet.

The Democratic Society Party (DTP) will be having its next congress
in June this year. The DTP will vote for a new chairman, as its
current chairman, Nurettin Demirtaþ, is facing a jail sentence for
forging documents to avoid fulfilling his mandatory military service.