Turkish speaker says hopes Kurdish opposition will join work on new constitution

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s parliament speaker said on Friday he hoped all parties, including the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), would take part in a parliamentary commission charged with drafting a new constitution.

The ruling AK Party has put replacing the country’s coup-era constitution at the heart of its agenda after winning back its parliamentary majority in a November election.

But there is wide divergence over what the new charter should look like. Opposition parties see improving minority rights as key, and Turkey’s Western partners want changes that will bring Turkey closer to European Union norms.

President Tayyip Erdogan is focused on introducing a new presidential system that includes stronger executive powers.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu this month held meetings with the leaders of both the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), both of whom have agreed to join the commission.

A meeting with the HDP leadership was canceled amid anger between the party and the government over spiraling violence between security forces and Kurdish militants. Erdogan has even called for parliament to strip the HDP’s leaders of their immunity from prosecution amid a probe into their stance once the violence in the mainly Kurdish southeast.

Police detained senior local officials from the HDP on Friday in a raid on one of its Istanbul offices, party officials said, days after Erdogan said he backed legal action against its members.

“I will send letters to CHP, MHP, AKP and HDP leaders,” said Parliamentary Speaker Ismail Kahraman -- whose job it is to convene a constitutional commission -- at a news conference.

“I hope they’ll join the commission,” he added.

The ruling AK Party lost its single-party majority in a June election, but after coalition talks failed, it swept back to power in a snap poll, capturing nearly 50 percent of the vote.

They still need support from 14 opposition politicians to put a new constitution to referendum or 50 votes to push it through a bitterly polarized parliament.

This isn’t the first time AKP has tried to renew the constitution. A cross-party commission collapsed in 2011, but not before agreeing on 60 articles. This could prove the basis for the latest round of negotiations, Kahraman said.

“During the last commission, I saw there was exceptional progress. They agreed on 60 articles and discussed 172 more. We’ll see if that is a starting point for the new commission, or if we begin again,” he said.

Reporting by Ercan Gurses and Melih Aslan; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Ayla Jean Yackley