Turkey nears referendum race on new constitution

18:41, September 08, 2010      

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Turkey is approaching a referendum due on Sunday on changes to a government-backed constitutional amendment package as the ruling party and the opposition have intensified their campaigns.

The fate of the highly disputed reform is likely to be a measure of support for the ruling Justice and Development Party ( AKP), which came into power in 2002 and faces the general elections in 2011.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a TV interview late Monday that the amendments would introduce a transform for the nation that has a constitution adopted after the 1980 military coup and criticized by the European Union, which Ankara seeks to join.

In an interview with private channel Beyaz TV, Erdogan called for votes for the amendment package and rejected opposition against the reform from the judiciary, saying the judiciary should stop trying to build a state under its own control.

"In your position, you can't engage in an effort to establish a 'juristocracy' and a state of jurists. All should know their own places," Erdogan was quoted by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News as saying.

Proposed by the AKP, the amendment bill has been strongly criticized by opposition parties and the judiciary as an AKP attempt to seize more control over the judiciary and other state institutions.

The AKP said that Turkey needs to change its current constitution to improve democracy and human rights in line with the EU standards, while accusing the judiciary of blocking many of its bills.

Chief of the Supreme Court of Appeals Hasan Gerceker criticized the amendments as a violation of the separation of powers, according to the Hurriyet.

The political atmosphere in Turkey is under the influence of a brutal campaign wave for the last couple of months after the AKP pushed the amendment package through parliament in May.

Among the most heavily-debated amendment proposals are those to require the permission of a parliamentary commission for closure of political parties, allow civilian court trial of military personnel in certain crimes and overhaul the judiciary.

The article that would make it harder to close political parties was rejected during parliament voting.

Opponents have slashed the proposals, arguing that the government sees the judiciary as a stronghold for traditional secular elites hostile to the AKP and some of its reforms. They also suspect the AKP of having an Islamist agenda.

The AKP denied the charge and accused the judiciary of blocking reforms and intervening in the parliament.

"You have to say 'yes' or 'no' to the whole package. How could there be an understanding like this?" Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Republican People's Party (CHP), said in his referendum campaign in the Aegean city of Izmir on Sunday. The CHP has favored voting on individual articles of the amendments instead of the whole package.

Kilicdaroglu also repeated the warning that the judiciary would be politicized with the amendments.

Opposition in the parliament including the CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have campaigned for a "no" vote at the referendum, while the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) boycotted the vote, arguing the government had not taken their requests into consideration through the preparation process of the package.

The Constitutional Court rejected a request by the secularist opposition CHP in July to cancel the entire package, but annulled some key articles that would curb the power of the judiciary and the military.

Two of the articles annulled would widen the selection of candidates for membership at the Constitutional Court and another powerful judicial body and give parliament and the president a bigger say in the appointment. The articles left aim to grant more civil rights and increase civilian oversight of the army.

Recent polls showed a close match between the "yes" and "no" votes for the reform. A&G, a private pollster, announced on Aug. 31 that 51 percent of voters surveyed planed to vote "yes" and 49 percent planed to vote against the reform.

Another pollster SONAR said that a little more than 50.13 percent of people surveyed from Aug. 15 to Sept. 1 wanted to say yes while 49.87 percent intended to say no.

Source: Xinhua


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