AKP PREPARES TO ANNOUNCE NEW CONSTITUTION
By Gareth Jenkins

Eurasia Daily Monitor, DC
Jan 7 2008

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is finally expected
to announce details of a new Turkish constitution later this month. A
provisional draft has been submitted to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan for his approval prior to it being made public. The current
expectation is that, following its publication, the new constitution
will be formally promulgated this spring.

The new constitution was originally due to have been announced in
fall 2007. However, publication was postponed after copies of the
draft leaked to the Turkish press suggested that the new constitution
would explicitly guarantee that women wearing Islamic headscarves
would be able to attend university (see EDM, September 20, 2007). The
Islamic headscarf is currently banned in all state institutions, which
affects not only university students and academic staff but also all
civil servants and employees in state-controlled institutions such
as hospitals and courts of law. For hard-line Turkish secularists
the Islamic headscarf is an expression not of personal piety but of
a desire to regulate the public space according to the precepts of
Islamic law, and thus is an assault on the principle of secularism
enshrined in the current Turkish constitution. However, recent opinion
polls suggest that nearly 70% of Turkish women cover their heads
(see EDM, December 3, 2007), with the figure rising to over 80%
among the poorer sections of society who form the AKP's grassroots
support. Under the current laws, none of these women can work in the
state sector or attend university unless they remove their headscarves.

In late November 2007, Erdogan announced that a draft constitution
would be made public by December 15, 2007 (see EDM, November 27).

However, publication was again postponed. The AKP has been heavily
criticized for the secrecy with which it has been preparing the
new constitution. Last fall 83 leading Turkish NGOs established the
Constitutional Platform Initiative (APG) to serve as a platform for
a public debate about the possible contents of a new constitution.

However, the AKP refuses to include anyone from outside a small coterie
of its own experts in the drafting of the constitution (Yeni Asya,
January 3, Referans, January 4).

On January 3, the Islamist daily Zaman, which is run by followers of
the Islamic preacher Fetullah Gulen, who is currently in self-imposed
exile in the United States, published details of what it described
as the draft of the constitution that will be announced later this
month. In recent years, the Gulen movement has established a very close
working relationship with the AKP (see EDM, November 21) and actively
campaigned for the party in the July 22, 2007, general election.

According to the report in Zaman, the new constitution consists of
137 articles and seven temporary articles. It includes an explicit
commitment to the principle of secularism enshrined in the current
constitution. However, Article 45 of the draft states that no one
can be deprived of a higher education on the grounds of his or her
choice of dress. In practice, this would make it unconstitutional to
prevent women wearing Islamic headscarves from attending university,
although girls could still be banned from covering their heads in
primary and secondary schools.

The draft also curtails some of the prerogatives of the Turkish
president. Under the current constitution, the president is responsible
for appointing all bureaucrats. Under the draft leaked to Zaman, the
president would only be responsible for appointing regional governors
and ambassadors. The right to appoint all other bureaucrats would be
transferred to the government.

Zaman reports that Article 32 of the new constitution would require
the courts to provide translators for defendants unable to understand
Turkish. In practice, this would breach the current de facto ban on
the use of Kurdish in the courtroom, as many poorer members of the
Turkey's Kurdish minority have only a rudimentary grasp of Turkish.

Zaman also claims that Article 66 of the constitution will redefine
the notion of Turkishness. The current constitution describes every
Turkish citizen as a Turk. Zaman reports that this will be now be
revised to read that every Turkish citizen will "be called a Turk
regardless of religion or race" (Zaman, January 3).

Such a minor adjustment is unlikely to satisfy those Kurdish
nationalists who want to see the new constitution include an
explicit reference to their being allowed to express their own
identity. The current constitution already includes provisions
forbidding discrimination on the basis of religion. But Muslim Turks
have long referred to members of the country's non-Muslim minorities
as "Turkish citizens of Greek/Armenian/Jewish origin" rather than
simply as "Turks." There is little prospect that the wording of the
new constitution will eradicate this de facto discrimination.

However, once the new constitution is published, the key issue is
likely to be whether or not the AKP will retain the provisions in the
current draft lifting the headscarf ban in universities. In spring
2007, the fact that Abdullah Gul's wife wore a headscarf was the main
reason for the largest public demonstrations in Turkish history, as
hundreds of thousands of secularists took to the streets to protest
the AKP's attempts to appoint him as the country's next president.

Demoralized by the AKP's landslide election victory in July 2007,
the secularists remained silent as Gul was eventually appointed to
the presidency in August 2007. But, even if they do not take to the
streets, there is little doubt that the inclusion of a clause in the
new constitution outlawing the headscarf ban would further alienate
secularists from the AKP government. It would also increase the
pressure on the staunchly secularist Turkish military, which has
long opposed any lifting the headscarf ban. Since its attempts in
spring 2007 to galvanize public opposition to Gul's presidency ended
in failure, the Turkish military has avoided any public confrontation
with the AKP. But if the AKP includes a clause lifting the headscarf
ban in the new constitution, it will be very difficult for the Turkish
military to remain silent.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress