Turkish opposition steps up referendum campaign

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Turkey's main opposition party CHP has detailed its hostility to the constitutional amendments proposed by the ruling AK party, which will be voted upon in a referendum on 12 September.

CHP leader Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu renewed his call on all "democrats" in Turkey to vote against the constitutional amendments in an eight-page letter circulated to the Brussels press yesterday (1 September).

The letter provides full details of the reasons behind CHP's opposition to the amendments. Up till now, this had been formulated only in general terms, referring to the politicisation of a judiciary that favours the ruling party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an.

If the AKP package enters into force, Turkey will be rapidly transformed into an authoritarian regime dominated by a single party, he warns.

In his letter, K?l?çdaro?lu says Turkey's judicial authority, the High Board for Judges and Public Prosecutors (HBJP), should comply with the highest and most progressive European values and standards. Therefore, the CHP insists that the Minister of Justice should not be president of the HBJP and should not have the power to control the judiciary.

According to the AKP's amendments, the Minister of Justice would continue to be president of the Board.

The main opposition party also states that the Under-Secretary of the Minister of Justice should not be a member of the Board, as the AKP proposes in its amendments, and should not have the power to block its functioning and impartiality.

The president of the Board ought to be elected by the members of the Board, the CHP further argues, adding that authorisation to start an interrogation against judges and public prosecutors should not belong to the Minister of Justice but to the HBJP itself.

According to the AKP, authorisation to rule and represent the Board is given to the Minister of Justice. Authorisation to appoint the secretary-general of the Board is also given to the Minister of Justice.

In his letter, K?l?çdaro?lu warns of growing "authoritarianism" under the AKP government, growing arbitrary telephone tapping by the authorities, investigations aimed at silencing opponents and pressure on the media, which are creating "a society of fear" in Turkey.

K?l?çdaro?lu, who was recently elected CHP leader, is expected to pay his first visit to Brussels soon after the referendum. CHP is affiliated to Socialist International.

Asked by EURACTIV to comment on the Turkish referendum, Angela Filote, spokesperson for Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle, said the final say belonged to Turkish voters. 

"The Commission does not intend to interfere in the campaign. We will obviously respect the outcome of the referendum and continue to work with all actors in Turkey towards further necessary reforms," she said.

Filote explained that when the Commission received the draft reform package, it described it as a step in the right direction as it addressed a number of long-standing priorities which the EU has identified over the years in its Progress Reports and Accession Partnerships. She listed some positive elements of the proposed amendments:

  • Regarding military justice, the reform restricts the competence of military courts to crimes of military personnel related to military service and duties, and allows civilian courts to try military personnel on all other occasions;
  • It allows for trial of the army chief and his aides by the Supreme Court;
  • The composition of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors is widened and aims to represent the judiciary as a whole;
  • The reforms also allow for positive discrimination measures for women and children;
  • The package also extends the rights of civil servants to collective bargaining and agreements, but not the right to vote.
  • It provides a legal basis for establishing the institution of an ombudsman.

Filote said the Commission regretted the lack of dialogue and compromise in the preparation phase of the reform package and the referendum campaign itself. 

"We believe that a broader dialogue would have laid the ground for a broader consensus among Turkey's citizens and civil society," she said.

If the reforms are approved, implementation will be key and the Commission will closely monitor how this is done, the spokesperson concluded.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an has renewed his call for the Republican People's Party (CHP) to support efforts to lift Turkey's controversial headscarf ban once the 12 September referendum is complete, in a move that tests the CHP's stance regarding the Islamic garment, the daily Zaman writes.

Turkey's longstanding headscarf issue was swept back onto the agenda last week after K?l?çdaro?lu pledged to resolve the issue if his party came to power, the daily recalls.

"I promise that the CHP will allow people to wear the headscarf. The prime minister will see. He couldn't manage it, but we will," the CHP leader vowed.

However, Erdo?an has expressed doubts about the CHP leader's sincerity on the headscarf issue, Zaman also recalls.

MEP Adrian Severin, the S&D Group Vice-President for Foreign Affairs, expressed support for the CHP, “regardless of the different points of view expressed on the issue of the referendum”.

“There should be no doubt as to our solidarity with the CHP and to our belief that the CHP represents a democratic force working in the interest of Turkey. Therefore, it is our duty to support the CHP in its democratic endeavour,” Severin, who is a former Foreign Minister of Romania, states.

“The Socialist and Democrats Group (S&D Group) has not held a thorough debate on the constitutional amendments to be submitted to a referendum in Turkey, on September 12 […] Thus, any opinions expressed so far in relation to the said amendments constitute solely the individual positions of S&D members,” Severin notes.

Following controversial statements made by Austrian Socialist MEP Hannes Swoboda (see EURACTIV 26/07/10), the latest statement appears to dispel doubts in Turkey and concerns in CHP ranks that the European Socialists were supporting the ‘yes’ vote.

 

The ruling AK Party of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an avoided early elections on 7 July when judges approved its proposed constitutional reforms. However, the changes will need to be approved in a referendum to be held on 12 September. The main opposition party, CHP, is campaigning against them (EURACTIV 08/07/10).

Opposition leader Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu said the amendments would result in the politicisation of the judiciary and a separation in society. CHP also sees the proposed reform as a way of allowing the AKP to keep its officials safe from prosecution for corruption, as well as strengthening the positions of the ruling party ahead of next year's parliamentary elections.

K?l?çdaro?lu said he was aware of the shortcomings of the current constitution. He agreed that Turkey needed a more modern constitution and pledged to prepare a new draft if the CHP takes control of parliament.

As the Turkish press recalls, Erdo?an has primarily based his referendum rhetoric on the settling of accounts with the perpetrators of the 1980 military coup, encouraging Turks to vote 'yes' so that the coup plotters can be tried.

  • 12 Sept.: Referendum on constitutional amendments.
  • 22 July 2011: Legislative elections.

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